Recent investments showing at Cranmore
December 02, 2010
I've been skiing in the Mount Washington Valley for about 30 years, and I can't ever recall Cranmore with top-to-bottom skiing on Thanksgiving weekend. In prior seasons, we've had to wait until mid-December to schuss off Cranmore's summit.
To be sure, last weekend's skiing was limited to one route down: Easy Street to Gibson to Beginner's Luck. But it was Cranmore's full 1,200 vertical feet, served by a high-speed quad.
The key to opening early is snowmaking. When a trio of investors, headed by Brian Fairbank, bought Cranmore last June they pushed a $6 million roster of improvements that included doubling the number of snow guns and increasing the pumping power and electricity needed to support an aggressive snowmaking program. It is similar to the system and philosophy at Jiminy Peak in Massachusetts, which this same group owns.
When I stopped by to chat with general manager Ben Wilcox on Sunday, he emphasized Cranmore's commitment to snowmaking.
"Our new owner is a fanatic about snowmaking," said Wilcox. "It's our lifeblood."
Wilcox noted that at maximum capacity Cranmore could run 140 guns simultaneously, versus about 60 last season. Now Cranmore can take better advantage of late fall's narrower windows of snowmaking weather.
Being the first in the Valley to open was a strong statement of snowmaking capacity and Cranmore's eagerness to display it.
"It's turned a lot of heads," Wilcox added. "We've got a lot of happy people here this weekend."
I also checked out some of the other improvements. The ticketing concourse has been refurbished both inside and out. The South Slope double chairlift has been replaced by a fixed-grip quad chair, which was running this past weekend.
The South Slope double chair has been relocated to a new beginner area that's north of the high-speed quad. It's named the C-More chairlift, after Cranmore's popular penguin mascot.
Also on the north end of the base area, the former Arlberg Lodge has been converted into a children's center. It will be a couple more weeks before the C-More lift is turning and the Arlberg Children's Center is ready.
Also on Sunday I tried the new Mountain Coaster, which is located south of the main base lodge. The 2,400-foot ride in a tiny railcar twists and turns down the mountain at speeds up to 25 miles per hour. For committed skiers like myself, it's an interesting novelty.
But it's intended to attract non-skiers to Cranmore. And unlike skiing, the Mountain Coaster will operate year-round.
I totally concur with Wilcox's statement: "All this financial support we've received from our new owners is really showing."
Scott Andrews is a snowsports journalist from Portland who frequently skis in the Mount Washington Valley.