Mittersill chairlift opening rings in the New Year at Cannon Mountain


January 06, 2011
FRANCONIA—A small, happy group of skiers gathered Saturday to welcome 2011 with the long-awaited opening of the Mittersill Double Chair. The new chairlift accesses the Mittersill Terrain Area, located on the old Mittersill ski area, which closed in 1984 and is now officially part of the state-owned Cannon Mountain ski area operation.

For Christina Valar Breen, whose parents Paul and Paula ran the ski schools at Mittersill and Cannon from the 1950s through the 1970s, Saturday was a long time coming. Valar Breen and her daughter Annina, 11, arrived at the lift from the family's Mittersill chalet more than half an hour prior to the 8:30 a.m. opening and had the honor of riding the first chair.

"I'm just thrilled that the Mittersill ski area is being taken off the list of lost ski areas in New England," she said, sporting a vintage ski instructor patch from the Cannon and Mittersill ski schools. "It's a great day."

About two dozen people gathered for the New Year's Day opening, including longtime area skiers who schussed Mittersill's slopes in the 1960s and 1970s, youngsters who have never known a lift-serviced Mittersill, and ski area employees.

An official grand opening event will be hosted by Gov. John Lynch at a future date yet to be determined. Nearly four feet of snowfall at the end of December prompted the decision to open the Mittersill lift Jan. 1, capping off a week that saw record revenue days for Cannon, said Cannon Mountain General Manager John DeVivo.

Mittersill was developed by Austrian Baron Hubert von Pantz and opened in the winter of 1946. Von Pantz had fled his homeland after the Nazi occupation of Austria and became enamored of the Franconia mountains soon after his arrival in America. He built his Mittersill ski area adjacent to the state-owned Cannon Mountain at a time when skiing was booming in the United States. Along with the ski slopes, the Baron also built a Tyrolean-style lodge and created a village of chalets around the base area.

The ski area at Mittersill closed in 1984 following several years of decline, although skiers continued to access the slopes by hiking over the saddle from Cannon to the top of Mount Jackson, where Mittersill is located. Although the Mittersill slopes were deeded to the state in the early 1990s, access via the saddle was not officially opened until March of 2009, when the state gained control of the top of Mount Jackson from the U.S. Forest Service. Valar Breen and her son Cannon cut the rope at the saddle when Mittersill officially became part of the Cannon Mountain operation.

Cannon has managed Mittersill as a backcountry area since 2009. Skiing at the 86-acre Mittersill Terrain Area will not have snowmaking or grooming, at least for now, and Cannon Mountain managers warn that only expert skiers and snowboarders should ski at Mittersill.

"We may do some very limited grooming on the access points, and perhaps a rare groom on the extension from Taft and around the base area," said DeVivo. "In the future, we'll gradually add snowmaking to a couple of primary routes and groom those out, but we haven't set a timetable as yet."

The chairlift will be open daily from 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m. when the Mittersill Terrain Area area is considered open, which DeVivo said he expects will be in the range of 50-80 days this season. Cannon has added a couple of ski patrol shifts and lift operators to handle the additional terrain.

For many longtime area skiers, the opening of the Mittersill chairlift marks an exciting era of skiing at Cannon. Valar Breen credited Devivo, Lynch, and state Department of Resources and Economic Development Commissioner George Bald with positive growth at Cannon over the past few years. She said it was the fervent wish of her parents, now both deceased, to see the Mittersill ski slopes incorporated into the Cannon Mountain ski area.

"I'm very happy with where Cannon is right now," she said. "For the Valar family, and for legions of North County skiers, the return of lift access to the Mittersill trails is a dream come true… Mittersill was a fine ski area. Cannon-Mittersill will be an even finer ski area."

Meghan McCarthy McPhaul is a former staff writer for the Courier. Her book "A History of Cannon Mountain: Trails, Tales, & Skiing Legends" will be published this summer by The History Press.

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