Vail Resorts annual operating plan

The Mount Sunapee Advisory Committee, a collection of state employees, and representatives of nonprofits and the public, met on May 29 in Veterans Hall in Newbury to hear highlight from the first Vail Resorts annual operating plan and comment on it.

NEWBURY — On May 29 Bruce Schmidt of Vail Resorts presented the first annual operating plan (AOP) for the new lessee of the Mount Sunapee ski area. Schmidt read some “highlights” from the 2019-2020 plan to the Mount Sunapee Advisory Committee, but it included no large-scale initiatives. Members of the public who were present on one hand worried that this would impact Mount Sunapee’s visitorship and therefore income. On the other hand, Schmidt told them that he was unaware of any development plans for the West Bowl.

Schmidt read off nine sections of the AOP that he deemed significant. He began by saying that there would be no changes to activities during the non-skiing season in the coming summer. Chair lift rides will begin on June 22.

The 2018-2019 season lasted 130 days from Nov. 29, 2018 to April 7. The number of visits, he said, were “in line with expectations,” but he declined to provide numbers, citing it as a Vail Resorts policy.

The 49-year-old “Duckling Lift” will be dismantled and returned to the state of New Hampshire, as it was not used at all this season.

The ski area made snow for 702 hours during its season, using an average of 150 million gallons.

There is a new emergency operating plan.

Mount Sunapee applied for a special permit once this winter in order to use the lot at the state beach on Lake Sunapee for overflow parking. Schmidt said the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen will once again be given a permit to hold their annual fair at Mount Sunapee.

Based on comments from the New Hampshire Natural Heritage Bureau the mowing schedule on Jet Stream Trail will be altered. Committee member Sabrina Stanwood of the Natural Heritage Bureau noted that the greater fringed gentian occurs in the “open, seepy” areas and that this biennial plant flowers every other summer, but doesn’t set seed until October. Mount Sunapee has agreed not to mow the trail until after Oct. 15.

Vail Resorts will be changing signage at Mount Sunapee ski area to emphasize its partnership with the state of New Hamsphire. They will be adding the logo of the state park system to signs and promotional literature, a practice that was apparently once in place and had lapsed.

The new lessee is planning $600,000 in maintenance projects. Money will be spent on chair lifts, trails, snowmaking-pipe replacement, roof work on Spruce Lodge, mechanical improvements to Spruce lift, and work on the Sunapee Express Drive system.

Sarah Stewart , the commissioner of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, chaired the meeting. She opened up the floor to the members of the advisory committee to ask questions of Schmidt.

Dan Wolf, the Town of Newbury’s representative, wanted to know if the state was comfortable not getting visitor revenue data from Vail Resorts. (The Muller family, the previous lessees, provided it as part of the AOP.) Philip Bryce, the director of the state Division of Parks and Recreation, said that the information would be available to the state via the audit process. First, an independent company would be hired by Vail Resorts to prepare an audit report. Then the state’s auditor would look through that report to make sure the numbers were correct. “Plus,” said Bryce, “we’ve gone on site and had our auditor look at their books. We have that right under the terms of the lease.”

Nancy Marashio, representing the New Hampshire Society for the Protection of Forests, said she appreciated the acknowledgement of the relationship with the state park. “It is long overdue,” she said, “and it’s important to local folks.”

Marashio then asked why she had not heard anything about planned permanent protection of the East Bowl. Stanwood said that she would have to check into the details, but she remembered that “polygons 21 and 23” had been declared off limits to changes and expansions.

Marashio then made a personal comment rather than as a Forest Society representative. “I’m a New Hampshire native and in New Hampshire handshakes and words are important. [Vail Resorts] in an early presentation said they were not going to make major changes in the first year, that they were going to partner with the people and learn what was there. A lot of us felt that major changes were made. [Vail Resorts] has the right to make changes, but in New Hampshire you should do what you say. If you’re going to make changes, say up front you’re going to do it.” She said she was not saying this to Schmidt directly, but hoped he would convey it to the people he worked for. “If Vail is going to have credibility, it has to do what it says it is going to do.”

Marashio moved on to what she called “the elephant in the room.” She said there is “rampant rumor” that Vail wants to sell and move out of the area. Schmidt said that Vail has never sold any ski area it has owned. “There’s nothing that I’ve heard or seen in any conversationI’ve had,” he said, “to lead me to believe they are getting rid of any of the resorts they have.”

“Thank you,” Marashio said. “It would have been remiss of us not have at least asked.”

Maintaining the trails

After the AOP presentation the committee addressed trail maintenance on the mountain. Bryce noted that the master plan requires the resort staff to do the initial spring maintenance and after that volunteer partners take over. Schmidt said that Mount Sunapee staff were willing to pitch in through the summer, if needed.

Tim Eliason of the Sunapee-Ragged-Kearsarge Greenway asked if there was any movement on allowing volunteers to use chainsaws to clear trails.

“I worked in the woods to put myself through college,” Bryce said. “It’s an extraordinarily dangerous place. We want to put safety rules in place for volunteers. We’re doing training now for select people. We cover the liability of the volunteers, so if they were to do something, the state takes responsibility.” He hoped to have to the policy completed soon.

Hearing from the public

A regular hiker from Goshen stated that the interpretative trail is not on any of the maps given out a the Adventure Center and that the employees there do not seem to know anything about it. When she eventually found it, it was poorly marked and was being criss-crossed by fast-moving mountain bikes.

Russ Gates of Sunapee was concerned that Mount Sunapee was not keeping up with places like Cannon Mountain. He felt that few of the users of the Vail Resorts Epic Pass skied Sunapee and that the prices were too high to attract day-trippers. He was concerned that Vail Resorts had announced no new trails, no new snowmaking equipment, no new lifts, and no new facilities.

“You won’t be competitive,” Gates said. “You need to face up to this. I think that the ski visits should be public information. We deserve information that will let us know how you are doing, now, not in December [when audit information will be available.]’

Bryce noted that the prior lessee provided that information though it was not required by the lease. “Bu that created the expectation,” he said. “We have anticipated the concerns you expressed.” He did not, however, give Gates a response.

At the very end of the meeting a member of the public in the back of the room asked about plans to expand operations into the West Bowl. “There’s been no discussion that I’ve been involved in,” Schmidt said. “Vail want to make sure we have good skiing. We are just going to work on that.”

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