It seems like Attitash’s snowmaking expansion onto Wilfred’s Gawm this season wasn’t implemented merely for immediate satisfaction.
A gnarly black diamond trail accessible at skier’s left on the summit of Attitash Mountain, in Bartlett, N.H., Wilfred’s Gawm might be better known to some resort guests as a route downhill that had only been accessible for a fleeting period each season, or at least as many days that followed a significant storm in order to fill in the all-natural parameters.
But with snowmaking added to the mix this season, Wilfred’s Gawm has suddenly become a consistent availability at the resort, something that can’t be said for much of the rest of Attitash’s terrain. As of Wednesday, Attitash still had only 40 percent of its terrain open. Despite seeing six inches of new snow from Monday’s storm, new terrain is only slowly — definitely not surely — beginning to open at the Vail-owned property.
So, the fact that Wilfred’s Gawm is open when more than half of the terrain on the mountain’s two peaks is left waiting (in mid-January) speaks to Attitash’s commitment to creating viable terrain availability from the summit.
With a new, faster chairlift in place, it’s going to need it.
Vail Resorts, which purchased Attitash, along with nearby Wildcat Mountain, in 2019, has filed a preliminary permitting document with the U.S. Forest Service (Attitash’s summit is located in White Mountain National Forest property) to finally replace the hated Summit Triple chairlift, which has received complaints from skiers and riders for decades. According to the document, the new lift would be a four-six passenger, high-speed lift following the same, general profile of the triple. The work is slated to begin in early spring with a completion target in December.
“With projected increase in demand, a more robust lift infrastructure is needed to support increased visitation,” the application reads. “The proposal will provide an improved guest experience at Attitash Mountain Resort by reducing the wait times associated with accessing the top of the main summit and increasing the amount of people that are able to travel up the mountain. The proposal will also modernize lift equipment and reduce the amount of time lifts are down for maintenance or repair.”
In a statement last week, Vail Resorts spokesperson Adam White said, “Our resort teams are constantly evaluating opportunities that will enhance the guest experience. We are currently in the early phases of exploring the feasibility of many projects, including replacing the Summit Triple at Attitash with a high-speed lift. As such, we have submitted a project proposal to the U.S. Forest Service which is standard process and protocol for any potential lift project. At this time, we cannot confirm if or when the project will move forward. New projects are announced each year as a part of our company’s commitment to continuously reinvest back into the mountain experience.”
Attitash’s CTEC fixed-grip triple was installed in 1986, and provided just an extra push to a summit that hadn’t been accessible with the old double that had been in operation since 1968. According to Lift Blog, it is more than a 12-minute ride to the top, and that’s only when the frequent mechanical mishaps don’t render the lift useless.
Pleas to replace the chairlift have gone unto deaf ears, no matter if it was American Skiing Company, Peak Resorts, or Vail in charge. Last fall, when Vail announced its $320 million capital plan, calling for 19 new chairlifts at 14 resorts across North America, it stood to reason that the Summit Triple would be on the list. Instead, Vail announced that the east and west double-double chairs would be shuttered in place of a fixed-grip, four-person chair in time for next season.
It seemed then that a new lift to the summit was going to remain an empty hope.
A new lift does come with its own complications at Attitash. As anyone who has skied or ridden Saco by early afternoon can attest, even with the current capacity (1,500 skiers per hour) the intermediate trail can get skied over quickly, leaving a sheet of ice to navigate just prior to the idiotic (Idiot’s Option) or chicken (Chicken’s Option) routes that lie just below. Increasing that number of skiers won’t help that inevitability, which means Attitash needs to make sure that Wilfred’s Gawm and Humphrey’s Ledge both also remain viable selections from the top in order to spread out the population.
Theoretically, cut the ride time in half to six minutes. That’s going to create a crowded scenario atop the mountain and will be far too busy for anyone to think the product isn’t going to suffer in the name of replacing the lift.
Making sure that Wilfred’s Gawm and Humphrey’s Ledge are open more often is a start, but if Attitash faithful do get the kind of lift they’ve always hoped for, the instant wear on summit terrain will be the next hurdle. Might it lead to further expansion on the Attitash side of the resort? That’s a far longer bridge to cross.
In terms of conditions, you could argue that Attitash could use a slower lift in order to maintain its terrain at the summit. But nobody is that stupid.
Nor should the mountain welcome anything that doubles capacity. For as much of a painful trip as it is getting to the summit, the current occupancy per hour still works. The current lift, more often than not, does not.
Which is what makes this news such a welcome break for skiers and riders in Bartlett. Finally.
Eric Wilbur can be reached at email@example.com.