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Brandon Swartz, General Manager of Attitash Mountain Resort, New Hampshire
November 6, 2023
Click here for a mountain stats overview
Owned by: Vail Resorts
Located in: Bartlett, New Hampshire
Year founded: 1964
Epic Pass: unlimited access
Epic Local Pass: unlimited access
Northeast Value Pass: unlimited access
Northeast Midweek Pass: unlimited midweek access
Epic Day Pass: 1 to 7 days of access with all resorts, 32-resorts, and 22-resorts tiers
Closest neighboring ski areas: Black Mountain (:14), Cranmore (:16), Wildcat (:23), Bretton Woods (:28), King Pine (:35), Pleasant Mountain (:45), Mt. Eustis (:49), Cannon (:49), Loon (1:04), Sunday River (1:04), Mt. Abram (1:07)
Base elevation: 600 feet
Summit elevation: 2,350 feet at the top of Attitash Peak
Vertical drop: 1,750 feet
Skiable Acres: 311-plus
Average annual snowfall: 120 inches
Trail count: 68 (27% most difficult, 44% intermediate, 29% novice)
Lift count: 8 (3 high-speed quads, 2 fixed-grip quads, 2 triples, 1 surface lift – view Lift Blog’s inventory of Attitash’s lift fleet)
View historic Attitash trailmaps on skimap.org.
Why I interviewed him
Ask any casual NBA fan which player won the most championships in the modern era, and they will probably give you Michael and Scottie. Six titles, two threepeats, ’91 to ’93 and ’96 to ’98. And it would’ve been eight in a row had MJ not followed his spirit animal onto the baseball diamond for two summers, they might add.
But they’re wrong. The non-1950s-to-‘60s player with the most NBA titles is Robert Horry, Big Shot Bob, who played an important role in seven title runs with three teams: the 1994 and ’95 Houston Rockets; the 2000, 2001, and 2002 Lakers; and the 2005 and ’07 San Antonio Spurs. While he’s not in the hall of fame (Shaq thinks he should be), and doesn’t make The Athletic or Hoops Hype’s top 75 lists, Stadium Talk lists Horry as one of the 25 most clutch players of all time.
Attitash might be skiing’s Robert Horry. Always in the halo of greatness, never the superstar. Vail Resorts is the ski area’s third consecutive conglomerate owner, and the third straight that doesn’t quite seem to know what to do with the place. LBO Resort Enterprises opened Bear Peak in 1994, but then seemed to forget about Attitash after the merger with American Skiing Company two years later (ASC did install the Flying Yankee detachable quad in 1998). Peak Resorts picked Attitash out of ASC’s rubbish bin in 2007, then mostly let the place languish for a decade before chopping down the Top Notch double chair in 2018 with no explanation. That left no redundant route to the top of Attitash peak, which became a problem when the Summit Triple dropped dead for most of the 2018-19 ski season. Rather than replace the lift, Peak repaired it, then handed the spruced-up-but-still-hated machine off to Vail Resorts, along with the rest of its portfolio, that summer.
Like someone who inherits a jam-packed storage bin from a distant strange relative, Vail spent a couple of years just staring at all the boxes, uncertain what was in them and kind of afraid to look. Those first few winters, which corresponded with Covid, labor shortages, and supply-chain issues, weren’t great ones at Attitash. A general sense of dysfunction reigned: snowmaking lagged, lifts opened late in the season or not at all, generic corporate statements thanked the hardworking teams without acknowledging the mountain’s many urgent shortcomings. As it was picking through the storage unit, Vail made the strange decision of stacking the New Hampshire box next to the Midwest boxes, effectively valuing Attitash and long-suffering sister resort Wildcat – both with 2,000-ish-foot vertical drops and killer terrain – on the same day-pass tier as 240-foot Mad River, Ohio and 35-acre Snow Creek, Missouri. Anyone committed to arguing against absentee ownership of New England ski areas had a powerful exhibit A with Attitash.
Then, last year, Vail opened the Attitash box. And instead of the Beanie Baby collection and Battle of Hamburger Hill commemorative coins that the company expected to find, they pulled out a stack of Microsoft stock certificates from the 1986 IPO. And they were like, “Well now, these might be worth something.”
So they got to work. The company improved snowmaking. They replaced the 49-year-old East/West double-double with a brand-new fixed-grip quad. They raised the companywide minimum wage to $20 an hour, well above average for New Hampshire, helping Attitash staff up and resemble a functioning business. Then, this summer, they finally did it: demolished the wickedly inefficient Summit Triple and replaced it with a glimmering high-speed quad.
Of course, in true Attitash fashion, the Mountaineer, as the new lift is called, was the last of 60-plus 2023 lift projects in North America to fly towers. But the chair will be open this winter, and it should reset the mountain’s rap. Whether Mountaineer will finally push the resort’s reputation and stature to match its burly vertical drop and trail count remains to be seen. Ski’s readers did not list Attitash on their top 20 eastern ski areas for 2023. Z Rankings lists the mountain 28th in the East.
Unlike NBA players, ski areas’ careers span generations. In this way, they’re more like the franchises themselves. Sometimes the Lakers have Magic or Kobe, and in some eras, well, they don’t. Attitash just went a few decades without a franchise player. They may have finally drafted one. This is a top-20 New England ski area that may finally be ready to act like it.
What we talked about
The overdue death of the Attitash triple; the story behind the “Mountaineer” lift name; why a high-speed quad was the right replacement lift; take the train to the mountain; what happened to the lift tower that Flying Yankee and Summit Triple shared; expansion opportunities off Attitash Peak; other alignments the ski area considered for Mountaineer; why and where Attitash moved the Mountaineer lift load station; the circa-Peak Resorts Mount Snow intelligentsia; Vail’s culture of internal development and promotion; the unique challenges of running Attitash in a very crowded neighborhood; the Attitash-Wildcat combo; the Progression Quad replacement for the East/West double-double; considering Bear Peak’s lift fleet; why glades disappeared from Attitash’s trailmap, and why they’re back; whether the old Top Notch double chair line could ever enter the official trail network; snowmaking upgrades; how big of an impact the $20-an-hour minimum wage had on Attitash; employee housing; Northeast-specific Epic Passes; and the Epic Day Pass.
Why I thought that now was a good time for this interview
The Mountaineer, of course. For 30 years, successive owners have insisted that Attitash Peak was incompatible with a high-speed quad: too much capacity feeding too few trails from a lift that would cost too much to build.
Well, Vail built it. So Swartz and I discuss why, after saying no for so long, mom finally bought us our expensive toy. I won’t get into that here, because that’s what the podcast is for, but I will make this point: there is a dirt-stupid but persistent narrative that Vail Resorts doesn’t care about its eastern properties, and only bought them to entice monied New Englanders to its western trophies. But, nearly seven years after entering the region with the surprise purchase of Stowe, Vail has done plenty to disprove that notion, launching Northeast-specific Epic Passes in 2020; installing new six-packs at Stowe, Mount Snow, and Okemo; adding high-speed quads at Attitash and Mount Snow; and moving another HSQ at Okemo. It’s been a quiet but complete gut-renovation of what had been some very tired ski areas.
Vail must feel, often, like it can’t win. They’re often framed as elitists for building too much and as cheapskates for investing too little. Social media piles on because their resorts are too busy but also because they’re priced too high. I’ll admit that I criticize them for making lift tickets too expensive and passes too cheap. The Mountaineer, which New England has spent two decades begging for, will likely draw criticism for overcrowding Attitash as skiers soon forget the aches and pains of the Summit Triple.
Skiers can be impossible pains in the ass, no question. But Vail showed up at the steakhouse and came back to the table with the whole buffet. In the five years from 2016 to 2021, Vail purchased 29 ski areas. Prior to that, it owned just 11. That’s nearly a quadrupling of size in half a decade. That would be challenging at any time. Add the Covid face-rearranging, and it was nearly impossible to digest.
After several rough winters, however, Vail may be taming this herd of feral horses. They’re not done yet, but things are calming down. The lift investments are helping, management is stabilizing. They still need to loosen the reigns on snowmaking outside of the West, better limit crowds on peak days, and find a less-gun-to-the-head method of incentivizing Epic Pass sales than $299 lift tickets. But Vail Resorts, as a stable entity rather than a growth monster, is beginning to gel, and Attitash symbolizes that metamorphosis as well as any mountain in the portfolio.
What I got wrong
We alluded to the fact that Attitash would fly the Mountaineer towers on the day we recorded this, Nov. 6. Weather delays pushed that installation to later in the month.
This isn’t something I got wrong at the time, but the Epic Day Pass rates I mentioned were tier four prices. They’ve since increased slightly. Here are the current (and final) rates (the 22-resorts tier gets you in the door at Attitash):
Why you should ski Attitash
Let’s continue the basketball metaphor. Who’s your starting five if New Hampshire is your basketball team? Cannon makes the roster by default, a 2,180-footer with the best terrain in the state. Go ahead and fill out the roster with your other 2,000-footers: Loon, with its jungle gym of fancy upgraded lifts; Wildcat, with its Mount Washington views and high-speed top-to-bottom laps of twisted glory; and sprawling, falling Waterville Valley.
So who’s your number five? I’d accept arguments for gorgeous Mount Sunapee, beefy Bretton Woods, or Attitash. But as captain, I’m probably picking Attitash. Maybe not the Attitash of three years ago, but the Attitash that just got back from Chairlift Camp and can now offer a true, modern ski experience across its two mountains.
But, carve away the cosmetics, and the truth is that Attitash is an incredible ski mountain. That 1,750 vertical feet is all fall line, consistent, beautiful cruisers up and down. It’s not the steepest mountain, or the snowiest, or the most convenient to get to – you’ll drive past Waterville and Loon and Cannon to get there (or not, Route Expert Bro; save it for your Powder DAWGZ WhatsApp chat). But from a pure, freefalling skiing point of view, it’s among the best in the east. Just maybe don’t show up at 11 a.m. on a Saturday.
On the Top Notch Double
I’m not sure if anyone ever really loved Attitash’s Summit Triple, but the removal of the parallel Top Notch double in 2018 intensified focus on the summit lift’s shortcomings. Here’s where Top Notch ran (Lift 1 far looker’s left):
No one has ever really given me a good answer as to why former owner Peak Resorts removed that lift without a backup plan, but the timing could not have been worse – the Summit Triple suffered a series of catastrophic mechanical failures in late 2018 and early 2019, effectively shuttering the upper part of Attitash Peak for the bulk of that ski season.
Anyway, once Peak removed the lift, the liftline stayed on the trailmap, suggesting that it may join the official trail network at some point:
But the liftline slowly faded:
This year, the old ghost line is gone completely:
On the shared Flying Yankee-Attitash Summit Triple tower
An engineering quirk of the Summit Triple is that it shared a tower with the Flying Yankee high-speed quad, which crossed below the older lift:
So what happened to that tower? We discuss it in the podcast.
On the train from North Conway
Eventually, U.S. America will have to figure out better ways to tie cities to its mountains. One of the best ways to do this is also one of the oldest: trains. Swartz and I briefly discuss the train that runs from downtown North Conway and drops you at the Attitash base. I looked into this a bit more, and unfortunately it’s more of a novelty than a practical commuter service at this point. It’s expensive ($40 per person roundtrip for coach), slow (the train ride takes around half an hour, compared to a 16-minute drive), and inconvenient, with the first trains arriving at the mountain around 11 a.m. and the latest one departing the mountain at 2:40. Not a great ski day, and the schedule is, for now, fairly limited, running weekends and holidays from the day after Christmas to late February. You can book rides and see details here.
On the Attitash masterplan
Attitash, like all ski areas that sit partially or fully on Forest Service land, is required to file an updated masterplan every so often. Unlike the highly organized western Forest Service divisions, however, which often have their ski area masterplans neatly organized online (three cheers for Colorado’s White River National Forest), eastern districts rarely bother. So, while we discuss the mountain’s masterplan, I couldn’t find it, and the ski area couldn’t readily provide it.
On the Mystery of the Missing Glades
Circa 2011, Attitash’s trailmap called out several named glades on Bear Peak:
By 2020, 10 marked glades appeared across both peaks, though Attitash had removed their names:
By last season, all of them had disappeared:
But this year, some (but not all) of the legacy glades, are back:
What’s going on? We discuss this in the podcast.
The Storm publishes year-round, and guarantees 100 articles per year. This is article 101/100 in 2023, and number 487 since launching on Oct. 13, 2019.