“Finally!” “Thank God!” “About time!” “What took so long?” and “I’ll believe it when I see it…” Those are actual reactions from Eastern skiers when they heard the blessed news: Vail has filed a proposal to replace that infernal, wonky, and roundly despised Attitash Summit Triple chairlift.
Attitash in New Hampshire is the stuff of legend, a pillar of eastern skiing from a golden, more civilized age. Side-by-side peaks, near mirror images of each other – Little Attitash Mountain and Bear Peak, (Left Twix and Right Twix in the local vernacular) – feature steeps, narrows, moguls, and chicanes to satisfy even the most adventurous well-traveled skier or boarder. Though tucked away in a remote corner of New Hampshire, Attitash was for decades a gold standard: a bucket list destination for the true connoisseur and a gloriously fun training ground for the expert skier.
Sadly, many skiers and boarders – read: customers – say Attitash’s star has waned a little since the Vail takeover, and most of those point to the Attitash Mountain Summit Triple as Exhibit A.
The Attitash Summit Triple is probably the most dadgum, tarnation, polecat sumbitch of a chairlift I have ever had the displeasure of riding in my 50 years in this sport. It stops three times per ride, it swings in the cold for 15 minutes at a time, it freezes, it breaks umpteen times a season for days or weeks on end, leaving wholesale sections of the mountain’s summit closed. It spits, it farts, it craps its pants, and for years patrons – decades-old in many cases – have begged the powers that be to please, for the love of all that’s right and noble – give us a functioning summit chair!
And for years Vail and their predecessor Peak Resorts balked. But hopefully no more. On January 18, 2022, Vail Resorts Inc. applied with the U.S. Forest Service to replace Little Attitash Mountain’s Summit Triple with a high speed quad or six-pack. For those of you scoring at home, the summit of Little Attitash is located on the White Mountain National Forest, hence the requirement to acquire a special use permit from the USFS. Details in the proposal go so far as to delineate a nine-foot wide expansion through tree-clearing of the existing lift line, and the new lift would follow the old line closely.
According to the Conway Sun, the most local of Attitash’s newspapers, “the application does get into specific dates and timelines, saying Vail anticipates ‘beginning the work in early spring of 2022 with a completion target prior to December 2022,’ adding that no tree cutting or mowing will occur on Forest Service land between May 1 and July 15. In describing the need for the project, the application said that ‘with the decommissioning of the previous Hall double lift, the ski area uphill capacity has dropped significantly and has increased density on lower mountain trails.'”
It also took away the fun of seeing the view from the summit and basking in a top-to-bottom run. A review of the trail map shows exactly how much of the mountain gets removed from play when the Summit Triple conks out.
“New Hampshirites know and love Attitash and nearby Wildcat as some of the most authentic skiing and best terrain in the east. When Vail took over, the hope was there would be a renaissance for these beloved spots,” stated one lifelong New Hampshirite, a talented skier, and industry employee who spoke under condition of anonymity. “Vail has the money and ability to make Attitash and Wildcat into showcase destinations. Until now, it seems we’ve been somewhat forgotten. We shouldn’t have to wait until things break down for improvements or upgrades.”
A new chair at the Attitash summit seems to be a grand step in the right direction. It’s been a difficult year in the northeast, with both Attitash and Wildcat suffering from both equipment gremlins and hit-or-miss snows. The entire skiing and boarding world would enthusiastically welcome both Attitash and Wildcat back into the conversation of premiere American ski destinations. With all the goodwill these resorts have built up over many decades, a little TLC from Vail might accomplish that lofty, yet noble goal.
But there is also another consideration: magazine rankings. Perception is reality and without a chairlift that accesses the summit, Attitash is not just a bird with a damaged wing, but a damaged reputation. Even before the 2019 breakdown that shuttered the lift for almost a third of that season, Attitash scored so poorly in ratings for chairlifts that it negatively affected their overall scores by a significant degree. In our Border War series, you’ll see Attitash scored high in every single category except two: on mountain food (where everyone seems bogged down between B-minus and C-minus grades) and chairlifts. With a quick bit of simple mathematics one can see how by replacing that broken down, old mule of a chairlift with something providing reliable competence will elevate their overall score several full points and elevate them several spots up the overall rankings. Specifically, replacing the lift would – at a minimum – elevate their overall score from a B+ to an A-minus or even an A. That means, as we go to press, they would leapfrog no less than four spots, probably more when all is said and done and the series finalized.