Long dormant Tenney Mountain Ski Area in Plymouth set to reopen

By DAVID BROOKS

Monitor staff

Published: 02-04-2023 4:00 PM

After several false starts in past winters, Tenney Mountain Ski Resort in Plymouth is expected to finally reopen this coming week, more than a dozen years after it last operated fully, although a complete rebirth is still years away.

The resort, which has become a favorite of backwoods skiers who hike up to use the trails as they get cut and groomed following long neglect, is slated for an official opening on Friday.

Tickets will be sold for skiers and snowboarders to ride at least one of the two chairlifts, and the kitchen and bar will be open as part of the renovated lodge. There will not be any rental equipment.

It isn’t clear how many of the mountain’s trails will be open. Snowfall has been sparse this winter and, despite the installation of new snowmaking equipment as well as the purchase of two giant, six-figure grooming machines, warm temperatures and high humidity have slowed the ability to fill some gaps.

It’s possible that a “soft opening” will occur during the week. For details, check the website at www.skitenney.com

Workers will be scrambling up to the opening, working on the lodge and equipment in the face of numerous obstacles, many of them fueled by the pandemic and resulting supply-chain problems.

“Trying to get materials – structural steel, generators – is tough,” said Steven Kelly, the Massachusetts businessman and developer who bought the mountain last year. “A generator, I was told it will take 90 weeks!”

Kelly has already pushed back his plans to expand and rebuild the lodge and expand the skiable area. He hopes to get those plans approved by the town this year and have all supplies on hand so construction can start after ski season ends in 2024.

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The news of Tenney’s reopening this week is sure to trigger enthusiasm for the return of a classic ski area and some skepticism since it has had a couple of “soft openings” over the past few years that haven’t lasted. Backcountry skiers who’ve gotten used to having the mountain to themselves in recent winters may be bummed out, but the new management wants to keep them in the fold. In general, however, expect jubilation that Plymouth’s local mountain is back up and running.

“On social media I hear from 10-15 people a day,” said Michael Bouchard, Kelly’s partner. “People can’t wait.”

History

Tenney Mountain was opened in 1960 by Sam Hall, a World War II veteran of the fabled 10th Mountain Division, many of whose members started ski areas throughout the U.S. He turned what had been an informal ski hill into a real ski area with about 1,400 vertical feet, more than twice the height of Pats Peak, on more than 100 skiable acres.

For years it thrived with families, schools and local business, but Hall’s reluctance to add snowmaking eventually derailed it. Hall sold the resort in 1984, setting off three decades of struggle that involved four owners, some of whom departed in bankruptcy.

Tenney wasn’t alone in this turmoil. Dozens of smaller ski areas in New England failed over this period from the cost of insurance, snowmaking and other amenities expected by modern customers.

A New York investment firm put Tenney Mountain on the block and closed it during the 2010 season. It sat for five years as vandals stole nozzles from the snowmaking pipes and defaced buildings like the iconic ticket booth known as the Witch’s Hat because of its tall conical roof.

Bouchard, a Massachusetts businessman, bought it in 2015. He spent several million dollars to get the mountain usable and was able to open it a couple of times for short periods, often offering trails with mostly natural snow, and has operated a tubing park in a separate area alongside the parking lot. Tubing will be running this week.

Development potential

Part of the appeal of the mountain is its development potential. During the tumultuous decades of ownership, more than 120 condominiums were built around the mountain, but enough sewer connections and capacity exists for at least 10 times that many. The existing condos are not part of the Tenney Mountain purchase.

Bouchard has presented plans to Plymouth for developing the area around the ski mountain along Route 3A, including a hotel, townhouses and an apartment complex for Plymouth State University students and staff, but the pandemic derailed those plans and nothing had been done when he sold to Kelly.

Kelly also has plans to develop property alongside the mountain, starting with a hotel along 3A. Down the road, he said, he’d like to build some workforce housing to help solve the difficulty of finding staff and target business development.

For the immediate future, however, the big project is expanding and upgrading the lodge.

Fixing the snowmaking, chairlifts and grooming has taken priority; he estimates having spent $1.5 million so far. Then comes the lodge, which has been extensively reworked, with some interior walls removed and the appearance greatly improved.

“The important thing is to get the skiing right. When you have good skiing, then you have to have the ambiance,” he said.

Kelly has presented computer drawings to Plymouth showing what he’d like to do with the lodge. They include doubling total space, turning walls into glass to let people watch skiers coming down the mountain while sitting around the fire, creating a large ski bridge over current parking to allow new runs to be created, and more – but no detailed plans have been proposed yet, he said.

Getting open in time for school February break, one of the big weeks in the New Hampshire skiing calendar, seems like an important way to keep moving forward.

“We want the local people to come, to have a good experience. But to sustain it, you’ve got to expand beyond the local community,” Kelly said.

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