Les Otten said he was headed to the movies in 2014 when he got a call.
He said a guy on the phone from Berlin wanted him to look at some maps of the area around The Balsams.
Otten can’t recall the movie he saw, but when he came home, there was a package. He became so wrapped up in the maps it contained that he missed the ski season and a lot of other things, since then.
He could not believe what he saw and what the Balsams could become.
He sent maps of the private land in the area of Dixville Peak to Burt Mills in New York City.
Mills said, immediately, he knew Otten had hit the jackpot for ski area development.
This is a spot where you could create seven interconnected peaks, with 2,200 acres of skiable terrain, a huge bowl containing 500 acres of glades, 23 lifts and perfect exposure to protect the snow from the wind and weather.
“He has the knack for finding the unusual,” Mills said while snowshoeing the ridgeline high above the shuttered hotel. “He sees things where others don’t.”
Tuesday, a light snow falling as he pointed out where a gondola would go.
“That over there would be the terminus to lift six,” he said as 400-foot wind turbines whirred above.
He poked through the snow, still light with no spring pack-down occurring yet. It showed a four-foot snow pack under the snowshoes.
He said this is one of the snowiest places in New Hampshire and that the resort has received over 230 inches so far.
Mills has been Otten’s right-hand man for years and was senior vice president of American Skiing Company, which not only owned most of the major resorts in the East but places like the Canyons in Utah and Heavenly Valley, California.
While critics worry that Otten has too big a vision and that his past failure to hold on to the ASC empire under financial stress is a sign this idea will fail, others look optimistically at what restoring this grand hotel would mean to the folks of Coos County.
Otten said the whole deal will be decided in the next eight weeks.
“At the end of the day, I am fine. I can walk away from this and it will not impact me. I am not on a mission that I have to do this. But for that community this project is trans formative,” he said. “It would be nice to know you are doing something that does a whole lot of people a whole lot of good.”
And he includes skiers and riders in that category.
If created as envisioned, the Balsams resort will have a base elevation of 2,350 feet, making it one of the highest in New England.
In addition to that hedge against climate change, the Balsams will have the largest and most advanced snowmaking systems in the world.
It will be drawing water out of the Androscoggin River and piping it about 10 miles to this area.
After poring over maps to get an idea of the proposed trail layout, Mills and I headed over to the base of the former Wilderness ski area where a Snowcat was idling.
We headed up the old Wilderness ski trail known as “Connecticut” and when we got to the top we strapped on snowshoes and began a two-hour bush-whack off the back side of the terrain.
Otten said the Wilderness was built in the wrong direction, facing into the wind. It is the backside where snow just dumps and the terrain is perfect for a ski area.
Mills said about 20 percent will be beginner terrain and about 25 percent of the terrain would be considered black diamond or expert.
This is a beautiful area with a mixed forest of birch and balsam much of which has been cut hard over the years by its industrial landowners. Currently, much of the land is owned by Bayroot and managed by Wagner.
The Balsams resort, purchased in 2011 by Berlin businessmen Dan Dagesse and Dan Hebert for $2.3 million, contains 11,000 acres.
Brookfield Power has three wind turbines about 400 feet high that are along one of the ridgelines. They made a calming whir as we negotiated untracked powder, along drainage ditches. Mill said they are in agreement with Brookfield on a plan to develop side by side and making good progress on state permitting.
We came to a relatively flat area high up on the mountain which he said would be a beginner area. Most beginner areas are in busy lodge-area spots. But this would be high on the mountain, giving the beginner a big mountain experience.
A gondola is planned from the hotel to this area high above the resort.
One area we could not get to easily, was an area Otten called the “Hodge Valley.”
This is where where glade skiers will think they have gone to heaven.
Of course, all of this vision is dependent on a lot of things, mostly political and financial.
But the potential for ski area terrain is there and it is phenomenal.
For more on the project visit:
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding