50 years of Attitash: Blueberry Hill celebrates half century of skiing, Jan. 24 through 26

By Tom Eastman

BARTLETT — They're rolling out the red carpet this weekend at Attitash Mountain Resort, so to speak, for the nation's military and for skiers and riders, as it's not only Military Salute Weekend at Atittash and its sister Peak Resorts area of Wildcat Mountain Jan. 24 and 25, but in addition, Monday, Jan. 26, is a 50th anniversary celebration with $19.65 tickets to commemorate the year that the ski mountain once known as the “Red Carpet Ski Area” is celebrating its 50th anniversary to mark its opening on Jan. 26, 1965.

Attitash and Wildcat president John Lowell and Attitash/Wildcat marketing director Thomas Prindle are excited about the busy weekend of events (see accompanying sidebar for schedule).

“After 50 years,” notes Lowell, “Attitash continues to evolve and adapt now being part of Peak Resorts and integrated with Wildcat Mountain. Attitash has added new snowmaking technologies as the climate continues to change and challenges our business. Attitash has expanded its terrain parks, tree skiing, and progressively diversifies the summer attraction business which now includes a Mountain Coaster and Zip Tour alongside the original Alpine Slide. Traditional marketing efforts are continuing to change and become more technological and engaging with our current and future guests. Demographic changes are driving new initiatives to bring more people into the sport. Equipment advances continue to make various disciplines easier and more enjoyable. It remains a dynamic and exciting business of providing outdoor recreation to our guests in this beautiful place, Attitash Mountain Resort and the Mount Washington Valley.”

Prindle says the “red carpet” adage may be gone, but not the commitment to providing customer service and great recreational opportunities the year-round.

“The most common historical reference associated with Attitash Mountain Resort,” said Prindle, “is it being the ‘Red Carpet Ski Area,' referring to what I believe were actual red carpets in the base lodge, but also the initial business plan to limit the number of tickets sold daily. It’s indicated that 'in an era of 30- or 45-minute lift lines, (limiting lift tickets) was an appealing philosophy, but was quietly dropped by the end of the decade,' according to New England Ski Museum’s story ‘The Ski History of Bartlett, New Hampshire,’ written by Jeff Leich. There are also the images and history associated with the conceptual Attitash monorail to move skiers up the mountain that never came to fruition. But I believe most ingrained part of Attitash’s history is the original guidance of Thad Thorne, along with Phil Robertson, in building the ski area, both for winter operations and Thad being an early pioneer of summer attraction business. The name Thad Thorne is among those names that I feel are considered forefathers of the early developing ski industry here in the Mount Washington Valley."

“Other names,” said Prindle, “that come to mind in terms of having managed Attitash as an iconic New Hampshire ski area for a period of time are Phil Gravink and Tom Chasse, both of whom I’ve been fortunate to know and Tom who I worked for prior to his move west to be president of Schweitzer Mountain in Idaho. And I’d be remiss to not include the current president of Attitash Mountain Resort and Wildcat Mountain, John Lowell, who has and continues to contribute to the growth of Attitash and who I am fortunate to work for today. I realize that these are but only a few names among many that have contributed to the success of Attitash over the 50 years it has been operating as a lift-serviced ski area and its continued success today. As the ’marketing guy’ for both Attitash Mountain Resort and Wildcat Mountain, I can’t help but mention that this year’s 50th Attitash anniversary acts as a metaphorical book end to my first season as the marketing director at Wildcat Mountain, prior to Peak Resorts’ ownership (in 2010), when it was celebrating its 50th Anniversary back in January of 2008. I feel very fortunate to have been part of that and to now be part of celebrating Attitash’s 50th and in a very small way be among the history of skiing here in the Mount Washington Valley.”

In addition to Attitash celebrating its 50th this weekend, another major milestone will be celebrated come February vacation week: the 80th anniversary of Black Mountain in Jackson. Originally known as Moody's and then Whitneys' the area opened for its first season of lift-serviced skiing in 1935-36 and is said to be the oldest still operating ski area in New Hampshire and one of the oldest in the country.

There will be more to say about Black's role as New Hampshire's oldest ski area in an upcoming edition, but for this weekend, the focus is on Atittash.

Janice Crawford, executive director of the Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce, spoke for many when she saluted Attitash and Black this week on their anniversaries and the roles they have played in the region's tourism.

“Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Attitash Mountain Resort and the 80th anniversary of Black Mountain is an exciting opportunity to recognize the people and history behind these mountains,” said Crawford. “These two mountains have been inviting people to visit the area for many decades contributing to the economic well-being of our communities. So many memories have been created, opportunities for life-long health through an enjoyable exercise, many, many people employed and years of developing the ski industry for the state of New Hampshire. Running a ski resort is not an easy task. The Board of Directors and staff along with our 800 members who also gain from the success of these two businesses wish to recognize the dedication of the owners, stockholders and employees throughout the years we are celebrating.”

RED CARPET SKI AREA

The website, www.newenglandskihistory.com, tells the story of development of ski trails in Bartlett, including at Attitash — the website says that Atittash was named after an Abenaki Native American chief, but in fact, Attitash in Abenaki means “blueberry,” as Attitash is home to wild blueberries — but, forgive us, we digress!

“While Bartlett had a popular CCC ski trail for many years,” notes the website, “it was lacking a major ski area as the ski boom of the 1960s emerged.

In the early 1960s, two major ski area proposals surfaced for the Rogers Crossing area just east of downtown Bartlett. Big Bear was proposed for a peak known as [REVISED 2-215:] Garland Mountain, while a separate ski area was proposed for Little Attitash Mountain. The privately property-based Big Bear reportedly faced issues acquiring funds, whilst Attitash reportedly faced issues in obtaining agreements to use National Forest land on its upper elevations. Earle Chandler led development of Big Bear, whilst Phil Robertson (formerly of Cranmore) managed Attitash.


“My father, Cliffton Garland Junior — they called him Junior — sold that land to George Seeman,” related John Henry Garland of Bear Notch Ski Touring. “I remember that my grandfather, Cliffton Garland Sr., said that was some of the most fertile farm land in the valley. My father and his brothers used to ski at the old Mount Stanton Ski Area across the river and on the CCC-built Bear Notch Ski Trail. I am sure that my grandfather Cliffton Sr. would be trilled to know that three of his grandsons — Clifton Garland III, Doug and I — are still involved in the ski business at Bear Notch Ski Touring! My father sold that land because he wanted to help the ski business because he saw it as being good for Bartlett.”

While trails for both areas were cut, Big Bear never saw the light of day. Some associated with the stalled Big Bear development reportedly moved over to Attitash. Work on the area continued into the winter of 1964-65, including the installation of new chairlift towers after Christmas.

Attitash opened with free skiing on Jan. 26, 1965 with four trails and two slopes serviced by a 900 vertical foot lower mountain Mueller double chairlift. Known as the ‘Red Carpet Ski Area,’ Attitash featured limited lift ticket sales and a base lodge with wall to wall red carpeting. Additional trails were cut for the sophomore season.

Playing into the concept of having a unique lift like Cranmore, the original build out of Attitash's upper mountain was to be served via a heated monorail. A monorail line was cleared and 1,000 feet of track installed for the 1966-67 season for testing purposes. Universal Design Limited designed the 7,600-foot proposal, which was expected to open in the summer of 1967.

The monorail direction appeared increasingly less feasible when a new 5,000-foot long chairlift opened up the upper mountain in February of 1969. At this point, the monorail proposal had grown to four miles and was to include a sizable housing development. Plans were soon abandoned.

“All of a sudden, it was gone,” former board chair Norman E.“Sandy” McCulloch, 88, of Kearsarge and Barrington, R.I., told the Conway Daily Sun this week. “We were happy to see it go, because it had become a symbol of inactivity.”

In his 2005-penned article posted on the website of the New England Ski Museum (www.skimuseum.org) on the “Ski History of Bartlett, New Hampshire,” Jeff Leich wrote about Phil Robertson's original plans for the monorail.
Robertson, who had helped to install the overhead cable tow at Moody's (later Whitneys' and then Black) in 1935 and who worked at Cranmore before moving on to start Attitash, also was behind the early plan for limited ticket sales.

“Robertson, perhaps recalling the success Cranmore had in developing an entirely new form of ski lift with its Skimobile, became an advocate for a cog monorail ski lift at Attitash. In early 1967, a full-size model was installed at the base, and the line of the track was eventually cut to the summit,” wrote Leich.

“Reality set in” when construction planning started, recalled the late Thad Thorne in an interview with Leich, and the “uncertain prospects of obtaining financing and Forest Service permission for the expensive, unproven experiment caused its quiet abandonment.”

Attitash's next sizable expansion took place for the 1973-74 season, when the previously T-Bar serviced west side of the area was improved. Twin Borvig double chairlifts were installed, about 1,100 and 2,800 feet long. Unfortunately for Attitash and other non-snowmaking areas, the winter of 1973-74 was a disaster. As a result, Attitash only operated for 47 days.

Rather than hedge against bad winters with snowmaking, Attitash opted to expand off season offerings. In 1976, Attitash installed the second alpine slide in New England.

A new beginner and intermediate terrain was added for the 1977 season, increasing its inventory to 30 trails and four slopes.

Snowmaking begins]]

After two rough seasons snowfall-wise, Attitash manager Thad Thorne decided the only way to continue was to install snowmaking. After pursuing multiple sources of funding, including selling multi-year passes, Attitash became one of the last major areas in New England to install snowmaking when it built out a 110-acre system for the 1981-82 season. The system was installed just in time, as the 1982-83 season once again featured subpar snowfall.

Three million dollars was invested in Attitash for the 1986-87 season, as the area increased its vertical again during the Thorne and  asst. G.M. Jeff Lathrop era, the latter of whom served for 17 years during a period when Attitash was known for its on-hill racing programs and the hosting of several national events in the late 1980s and 1990s. A new CTEC triple chairlift was installed, giving Attitash a modern lift and an improved vertical drop of 1,750 feet. The expansion paid instant dividends, as Attitash shattered its records during the 1986-87 holiday season.

Novice offerings were once again improved for the 1988-89 season, when a short CTEC triple chairlift was installed adjacent to the double-double lifts.”

The LBO era

With the rise of mega ski corporations, the website notes that “Attitash became an attractive piece in the New England resort chess game.”

In January of 1994, LBO Resort Enterprises and the Mt. Attitash Lift Corp. announced a purchase agreement in principal. That July, Attitash was purchased by LBO Resort Enterprises. Investments into the area began immediately.

Starting that year, the never-completed Big Bear ski area was redeveloped into Bear Peak. Connecting trails were cut and the Abenaki fixed grip quad chairlift installed. Attitash was reborn as Attitash Bear Peak.

Additional terrain on Bear Peak was developed for the 1995-96 season, serviced by Attitash Bear Peak's first high speed detachable quad chairlift, the Flying Bear Express. In addition, LBO Resort Enterprises acquired nearby Cranmore in June of 1995 and marketed the two areas as one.

Following the 1995-96 season, Attitash Bear Peak was rolled into the American Skiing Company along with its sister LBO Resort Enterprises areas.

Three new trails, along with a refurbished triple chairlift, were added for the 1996-97 season, when the new Grand Summit Hotel was rolled out at the base of Bear Peak.

The original Old Reliable double chairlift was finally retired following the 1997-98 season. In its place, the Flying Yankee Express high speed quad was installed. Like the Bear Peak development, as well as the alpine slide, its relatively short length could be attributed to the private property boundary and thus avoidance of significant National Forest permits and lease fees.

With the cracks starting to show in the American Skiing Company empire in the late 1990s, capital investment in Attitash Bear Peak quickly subsided. The resort was quietly renamed Attitash in 2004.

Peak Resorts

Attitash, along with Mount Snow, were the first two eastern areas sold in the 2007 American Skiing Company mass sell off. On April 5, 2007, Attitash and Mount Snow were sold to Peak Resorts for $73.5 million, plus $2 million of debt assumption. That off-season, the Abenaki Quad was expanded downhill to provide access to a new real estate development. In addition, 90 new SMI fan guns were installed throughout the area, improving snowmaking.

In the fall of 2010, Peak Resorts purchased nearby Wildcat and proceeded to combine the sales and marketing campaigns of the two areas.

Attitash: Always innovative

In addition to the proposed monorail and discontinued limited ticket sales, Attitash was also known for being an innovator in freestyleskiing, notes the New England Ski Museum's Leich

“While the cog monorail and limited ticket sales are distant memories, one 1966 Attitash event still resonates,” wrote Leich. “In January of that year the Ski Masters event became the first meet in the United States to include a freestyle skiing element. Conceived by (now local Realtor) Peter Pinkham, then president of the Eastern Slope Inn, the event bore little resemblance to today’s mogul and aerial competitions, but nonetheless marked the dim beginnings of what would become an Olympic sport. Few towns can claim as much.”

Jackson's Phil Gravink, who served as general manager and president from 1992 until his retirement in 1999, said that in addition to the limited ticket sales and the monorail concept, Attitash was an innovator among ski resorts when it pioneered the concept of year-round recreation with the installation in 1976 by Thad Thorne and his board of directors of the Alpine Slide, imported from Germany. It was the second to be installed in the United States and is considered to be the longest in North America.

Over the years, Attitash has expanded its summer activities to include the Aquaboggan Waterslides, installed in 1979; horseback riding, lift-serviced downhill mountain biking and trailside riding and rentals, scenic chairlift rides, a climbing wall, a EuroBungy Trampoline, airbag jump, slacklines and staffing the Conway Scenic Railroad's dining car.

New Hampshire's second mountain coaster — the Nor-Easter — was installed at Attitash in 2011. The off season portfolio was further expanded in 2014 when two large ziplines opened.

“The emphasis on summer business was something which Thad Thorne and his early board developed in 1976, and which now serves as an essential part of every resort's business model,” said Gravink, who along with local 1972 Olympian Tyler Palmer, was elected to the U.S. Ski Hall of Fame in 2011 for his career as a leader among ski resort managers, having worked at Peek N Peak, Gore Mountain, Loon Mountain, Cannon Mountain, Sunapee and Attitash, and at Cranmore when ski mogul  and then Attitash owner Les Otten briefly owned the North Conway resort in 1995, when Gravink oversaw installation of the Skimobile Express detachable summit quad.

The board of directors at Attitash included late chair Forrester “Tim” Clark, Sandy McCulloch, who succeeded Clark; Ken Studley, George Seemann, Story Land co-founder Bob Morrell, Mike Davenport, Peter Pinkham, Jack Middleton, Bob Halloran, Bill Heisler and stockholders John Blake, Sam Egbert, Bob Halloran, Thorne and others.

After Sunday River's Les Otten purchased the area in 1994, Gravink oversaw the layout of Bear Peak in 1994-1995.

Whereas Thorne had laid out Attitash's classic, twisty and winding narrow New England trails in 1965, it was Gravink who laid out Bear Peak's wider, more western-type meandering trails in 1994-95 while working for Otten.

“I loved to build ski areas — I added it up not too long ago, and as CEO I oversaw the building of six base lodges, 26 lifts of various shapes and sizes and three hotels, including the 143-room Grand Summit at Attitash Hotel and Conference Center. All the monument I would want is the Bear Peak trail system and the North Peak trail system at Loon,” said Gravink in an interview with The Conway Daily Sun in 2011 and which he backed up again in an interview this week.

“Even though all of my ski career stops were enjoyable,” added Gravink, “because of the great board and staff I worked with I would consider the most rewarding my time at Attitash. Nancy Clark, Tom Chasse and John Urdi and so many others — it doesn't get any better than that.”

Attitash remains a place where dedicated ski people work all the year-round, and where community-minded events take place, ranging from the Red Parka Pub Challenge Cup and Junior Challenge Cup, the Eastern Slope Ski Club's Bartlett Junior Program, the Attitash Race League on Tuesdays, and the Attitash Equine Festival of the 1990s. It has a legendary racing heritage, due to the efforts of many, and spearheaded by former assistant general manager Jeff Lathrop, the father of three talented ski racing daughters (twins Abbi and Jenny and sister Christin).

Attitash hosted the NCAAs in 1984, 1995 and 2007 with the Jackson Ski Touring Foundation (with the University of New Hampshire was the host school in 1984, 1992 1995 and 2007), many Nor-Ams, the U.S. National Handicapped Ski Championships in 1987 and many races through the Mount Washington Valley Ski Team and Attitash race programs.

It's a mountain with a rich legacy, developed by Thorne and others such as Clark and McCulloch who had a vision. As former chair McCulloch noted this week, the memories and bonds remain strong.

“A bunch of us former directors get together for dinner once a year and share the old stories about Thaddie and the early years. We always go over to see Ginnie Thorne, Thad's wife, one evening. We got together at the Stonehurst this past Dec. 28 this year. Mike Davenport, Jack Middleton, Peter Pinkham, Phil Gravink …We are a good group, and we have had lifelong friendships that go on forever. The best part about Atittash was its northern exposure — it always held the snow. Compared to other areas, we were always No. 2 in ‘funability,’ after Wildcat. But Wildcat was a little further away. Attitash had the best of all worlds: it had the snow, it was closer than Wildcat, it didn't have quite the winds and cold, and it had great terrain.”

With Atittash and Wildcat now under the same ownership with Peak Resorts, even when it does get cold at the ’Cat, the two resorts' interchangeable ticket makes it possible to ski both, the same day, choosing one over the other depending on the conditions.

From Attitash, the Abenaki term for “blueberry” (the original Blueberry Hill?), to the Red Carpet Ski Area to Attitash Bear Peak to today's two-mountain Attitash Mountain Resort, the classic Bartlett ski area remains true to Thad Thorne's vision as a true New England original. Happy 50th, Attitash!

Military Salute Weekend, Jan. 24 and 25 and Atitash anniversary Jan. 26

BARTLETT — As part of its Military Salute Weekend, Jan. 24 and 25, and its 50th anniversary Jan. 26, Attitash will celebrate 50 years of skiing and riding.


“We will also honor our nation’s defenders with free lift tickets for active duty, veteran and retired service men and women as well as discounted lift tickets ($45 all ages) for active duty family members with ID* on Jan. 24 and 25. While all events take place at Attitash, Wildcat Mountain, located in Pinkham Notch just 20 minutes from Attitash, will also be offering free lift tickets for active, veteran and retired service men and women on Jan. 24 and 25,” notes Attitash/Wildcat marketing director Thomas Prindle.

Event schedule

The ceremonies are to start Saturday, Jan. 24, with a special flag parade, led by an honor guard, which begins at the top of Attitash and concludes with the National Anthem at the base area at approximately 1 p.m. Après ski entertainment provided by the Jonathan Sarty Band will take place in Ptarmigan's Pub from 3 to 6 p.m.

On Sunday, Jan. 25, the sixth annual Battle of the Branches GS Race will be held . Racers (including kids! will select which branch they are representing and their points will go toward each branch to determine a winner.
Event dates and times are subject to change; weather/conditions permitting. (*Active Duty personnel and must show their Common Access Card (CAC) or their DD Form 2ACT. Dependent family members of active duty personnel must show their DD Form 1173. Veterans must present their DD Form 214 and retired military personnel must show their DD Form 2RET.  Please note, the family member/dependent discount is only available for active duty military personnel).

On Monday, Jan. 26, lift tickets will be priced at $19.65 in honor of the year of the resort's founding in 1965. A party will be held in Ptarmigan's from 2 to 5 p.m., featuring the music of Shark Martin. Everyone attending will be entered in to free raffle where we'll be giving away 50 prizes to celebrate 50 years, including special Attitash 50th Anniversary t-shirts, gift cards, Vertical Value Cards, summer ticket packs, and one special Grand Prize. Free commemorative posters will be offered along with this year's special vintage Attitash logo die-cut sticker.

For further information, call 374-2368 or visit www.attitash.com.

 

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NOTE: An earlier version of this story said that the peak now known as Bear Peak was once known as Rogers' Mountain. Former Bartlett librarian and local historian Jean Garland corrected that statement — she notes that the mountain is shown on an 1805 map as Garland's Mountain. Richard Garland was granted their land in 1763. Jean Garland notes that she donated a copy of that map to the Bartlett Public Library.