March 07, 2012LITTLETON — The Mount Eustis Ski Slope revitalization effort recently received the Parks and Recreation commissioners' blessings, but a lot of work is ahead for all who are interested.
In the early 1980s, the town-owned ski area shut down after a few snowless winters, a loss of interest and an increase in costs. It had been a local source of outdoor recreation and entertainment for more than 40 years — even after construction of Interstate 93 cut the original 1,600-foot slope almost in half. Many long-time area residents have fond memories of spending evenings and weekends at the mountain while training with ski teams, partaking in competitions or just having fun.
The town has maintained the main trail by contracting the mowing out to a local man each year, but trees and other brush have still encroached upon it. Today a new warming hut would need to be built, and the lighting and ski tow would need to be fixed, upgraded or replaced completely.
Though attempts have been made in the past to bring the ski area back to life, this time the project already has the support of more than a dozen "can-doers." Such things as surveying, mapping, layout, slope safety, permitting, hut construction, grooming and signage all have volunteers from the business community.
Last Thursday, some of those people met with the parks department and other residents to discuss moving forward with the revitalization effort. After getting the commissioners' go-head, Ron Lahout, who is one of the organizers, said that the group will be looking into developing a business plan as well as the costs for such things as lighting, lifts and a lodge.
"[The commissioners are] confident that we can get it open without taxpayer dollars, but they're worried about how much it will cost to get it going," said Lahout.
Parks Commissioner Bryan Hadlock said that he is in favor of the project and believes that a ski slope would be a huge asset for the greater community; however, he is concerned about sustainability. While locals, tourists and ski teams from Littleton and surrounding towns would all benefit, the parks department budget is already stretched thin and project organizers will have to get creative to find funding.
"It's a positive thing and we've heard no negative feedback, but it's going to take a lot of time and planning," said Hadlock — though he added that he did have faith in those who are behind the project.
"There's a large group of people [involved] who are go-getters, so the physical additions will not be that expensive. The problem is making sure it's sustainable and we can afford it," he said.
According to Hadlock, the town's insurance program does not permit a ski area and an added policy would cost about $10,000 a year if purchased by Littleton. Organizers have said that it's possible the cost could be lower if the ski area was leased to an organization, and a small usage fee for the ski area has also been discussed.
Still everything being talked about at the moment comes with the caveat that the project is in the very early stages of planning.
Selectman Chairman Ron Bolt, attended the meeting but not I an official capacity on behalf of the town or the board, said one thing to be aware of is that the select board no longer has "the authority to make a lease arrangement on town-owned land." Any lease arrangement would need to be approved by voters.
The Lincoln-Woodstock Recreation Department runs what could be a similar town-owned ski slope at the Kanc Recreation Area. It includes a beginner slope, a skating rink and a sledding hill. Some of the expenses for the Kanc Ski Area include insurance at $10,000, electricity at $9,240, fuel at $5,352, heat at $2,330, and water for snowmaking at $3,500. Its total expenses come to $74,260 a year, or about $165 per hour for the average number of hours it is open each season.
Lin-Wood Recreation Director Tara Tower said that this year's budgeted revenue was $15,000 and the ski area has received $16,244 so far. The Kanc Ski Area offers residents a day rate of $5 and an evening rate of $3. Nonresidents are charged $10 during the day and $7 in the evening.
"We make snow for 250 hours each year," said Tower in an email. "And without it, we would not be able to be open from December 26 to March 31 each year."
Parks Commissioner Charlie Paradice said that overall Mount Eustis is "a great untapped resource for our town."
"There's some planning that needs to be done and thinking about what's down the road," said Paradice. "[However,] I think that there are a lot of quality people in the group. The passion for skiing that they have is enough that they could get something going and keep it going."
He did acknowledge that the first question that comes to people's minds over a project like this is, "how will their taxes be affected?" However, Lahout has already been thinking about ways that Mount Eustis could save the community money in the long run, pointing to transportation costs for the ski teams and programs.
"The cost of what we've paid to use Cannon would be a savings to the budget," said Lahout.
He has also been thinking of ways to fundraise, suggesting that people could "purchase" individual lighting poles or parts of the ski tow and warming hut in exchange for having a plaque put up in honor of a family or loved one.
Any individuals, organizations or businesses interested in contributing, may contact David Harkless at 444-3437, Ron Lahout at 387-6209 or Herb Lahout at 616-7991.