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Sunapee, Okemo Ski Areas Begin Lift, Trail Upgrades

This July 15, 2014 photo shows a real estate sign in the woods on the north west side of the Mount Sunapee ski area in Goshen, N.H. A judge ruled last week that state park land adjacent to the ski area  should be included in the lands held by The Sunapee Difference company. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

This July 15, 2014 photo shows a real estate sign in the woods on the north west side of the Mount Sunapee ski area in Goshen, N.H. A judge ruled last week that state park land adjacent to the ski area should be included in the lands held by The Sunapee Difference company. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

Newbury, n.h. — Major ski lift upgrades planned at two area resorts will mean speedier trips up the mountain next winter in addition to new terrain and more snow-making in the future at one of them.

Operators of Mount Sunapee Resort announced Thursday they will be adding a high-speed, four-person chairlift in the Sunbowl area, replacing the slower, four-person lift.

“In recent years, upgrades in the Sunbowl area, including a high-speed lift, has been the number one request from guests,” Mount Sunapee Resort General Manager Jay Gamble said Thursday. “We are very pleased we are able to do this. It will greatly improve the skier experience.”

The lift, which is being transported from Okemo Mountain in Ludlow, will be installed this summer with a project cost of about $1.4 million, Gamble said.

Okemo is owned by Tim and Dianne Mueller who have been the leaseholders at Mount Sunapee since 1998.

Gamble also said a six-person “bubble chairlift” will replace the high-speed, four-person lift at Okemo. Each chair of Okemo’s new lift will have a dome or bubble that protects the skiers from the elements.

With heated seats, it is the first of its kind in North America, said Okemo’s Director of Public Relations, Bonnie MacPherson.

The new lift at Sunapee will cut the time to the summit from the bottom of the Sunbowl by more than half to about four minutes. Though the lift capacity — 2,400 skiers per hour — won’t change because the number of chairs is half that of the old lift. The faster ride time nonetheless will allow for more runs on the mountain, Gamble said.

The lift’s 4,300-foot length rises 1,000 feet from bottom to top and services 17 trails. Once installed, the ski area will have two, high-speed lifts to its summit.

Gamble said this is the first phase of a three-to-four year plan to upgrade lift capacity and build new trails. He said in future years, the four-person lift that is now at the Sunbowl will replace the three-person North Peak, lift which will be moved to the Sunbowl for construction of a new lift line to the North Peak.

The lift reconfiguration will be accompanied by new ski terrain from the top of North Peak down into the base of the Sunbowl and snowmaking on additional trails, the resort said in a news release.

The new lift at Okemo will span 6,400 feet with a vertical rise of 1,670 feet and carry skiers at a speed of 1,000 feet per minute for a total of about a six and half minute ride to the summit. The cost of the project is $7 million.

“We listen to what our guests have to say,” said Okemo Vice President and General Manager Bruce Schmidt in a news release. “They have been telling us that they want a lift with some protection from the elements so they can have a better experience on the mountain and spend more time on the snow.”

Gamble also commented on last week’s Superior Court ruling that sided with the resort in a longstanding dispute over the boundary of the lease area at Mount Sunapee. The leaseholders have contended for more than a decade that the lease area extends to the state park boundary on the northwest side, while the state and opponents have argued the boundary ends at the edge of ski area.

“We are pleased that the Court has acknowledged and confirmed those property rights that were agreed to when we signed the Lease Agreement in April of 1998,” Tim Mueller stated in a release.

Judge Larry Smukler said the plaintiff’s evidence was both clear and convincing on the agreed upon boundary line.

If the ruling is upheld in any appeals, which have not been filed yet, the resort wants to expand to a “West Bowl” area and add a 5,100 foot lift, four trails, 80 acres of terrain and a new base lodge.

“Our Master Development Plans have always been about improving the skiing experience and recreational opportunities at Mount Sunapee,” Gamble said in a news release. “We believe the West Bowl expansion will significantly enhance the skiing and riding experience at Mount Sunapee.”

Opponents of the larger lease area have said the resort wants to do more than expand skiing and claim a secondary goal is to develop private land outside the park with condominiums and connect it to the ski area.

Tom Elliott, a spokesman for the Friends of Sunapee, said the chief concern is not only about what would happen to the character of the mountain but the negative effects a condo project would have on the community and the precedent it would set if the state cedes public land. The group was disappointed but undeterred by Smukler’s ruling.

“The people of New Hampshire really have to look hard at what it means to use a state resource to enable somebody else’s real estate development,” Elliott said. “We could probably use Hampton Beach or one of the other beaches, or the Old Man (of the Mountain Historic) site to enable a lot of real estate development, but that’s not what they’re there for.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this article. Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.