BARTLETT — Attitash Mountain Resort, once known as the “Red Carpet Ski Area,” continues to roll out the red carpet for skiers and riders as it celebrates its 50th anniversary this winter.
“After 50 years,” notes John Lowell, president and general manager of both Attitash and its sister Peak Resorts area, Wildcat Mountain. “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 … 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.”
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.
While Bartlett had a popular Civilian Conservation Corps 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 Garland’s Mountain, while a separate ski area was proposed for Little Attitash Mountain. The privately property-based Big Bear reportedly faced issues acquiring funds, while Attitash reportedly faced issues in obtaining agreements to use National Forest land on its upper elevations. Earle Chandler and George Seeman led development of Big Bear, while Phil Robertson (formerly of Cranmore and what became Black) managed Attitash.
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.
Playing into the concept of having a unique lift, like Cranmore’s Skimobile, the original build-out of Attitash’s upper mountain was to be served by 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.
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 operated for only 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.
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.
The LBO era
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.
Then general manager and president Phil Gravink laid out Bear Peak’s trails when Otten owned the resort. 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. Connecting trails were cut and the Abenaki fixed grip quad chairlift installed. Attitash was reborn as Attitash Bear Peak.
Following the 1995-96 season, Attitash Bear Peak was rolled into the American Skiing Co. along with its sister LBO Resort Enterprises areas.
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.
Attitash, along with Mount Snow, were the first two eastern areas sold in the 2007 American Skiing Co. mass sell-off. On April 5, 2007, Attitash and Mount Snow were sold to Peak Resorts. 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 Jeff Leich. He wrote that local Realtor Peter Pinkham started the Ski Masters in January 1966.
“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,” said Leich.
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. The Grand Summit Hotel opened in 1996-97.
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.
From Attitash, the Abenaki term for “blueberry” (the original Blueberry Hill?), 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.