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Mount Eustis, NH (Former NELSAP Hill): Feb. 26, 2015

thetrailboss

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MOUNT EUSTIS, LITTLETON, NH

Date: February 26, 2015

Day: 24

Conditions: PP/P; Partly Cloudy, Temps in the teens

Last October I came to visit family with my two year old daughter and thought how fun it would be to come back to visit in ski season. So on Christmas Night we booked our tickets not knowing of the snow season that Vermont and New Hampshire would have.

While the knee-jerk reaction for someone flying back to Vermont from Utah would be to go big or go home, I was yearning to ski some of the local places—the Lyndon Outing Club and Burke in particular that were my home areas growing up. One place that was on my radar was in Littleton, NH and that was the obvious open slope just south of town overlooking Interstate 93. At night there was a lit cross on the summit. It seemed like an obvious ski hill….and in fact I wondered if it was still in use. Well, NELSAP told me that it was a ski hill and had been out of business for decades…..it has never been open since I was alive.

A few years back an article in the Caledonian Record mentioned efforts to reopen the hill. I followed closely. Then, thanks to social media, I learned in 2013 that they were seriously making a run at it.

In September 2013 we were on a flight back to Vermont for my sister’s wedding. On the flight from Chicago to Manchester I saw a guy get on the flight with a black hat on that had the simple “Ski Mt. Eustis” logo on it.

“I take it you are from Littleton?” I asked.

He was too stunned to reply.

“The hat made me ask—I’ve heard about what you guys are doing and I hope it works out.”

His friend spoke up.

“Yep, we’re part of the group. We work at Littleton Bike Shop.”

I told them about the Outing Club in Lyndon and how much it meant to me. In Manchester I wished them luck and said I hoped to visit.

I also followed their efforts more closely on Facebook and here. This past summer they cleared the slope, raised money, got a new warming hut, got a rope tow designed and approved, got a “new to them” groomer valued at $50,000 from Bretton Woods (a kind donation), and set out to make the ski area.

In planning for my trip back to Vermont, I looked up to see where they were at—the summit rope tow was not quite ready, but they were determined to open and open they did. So while Cannon, Sugarbush, and Burke were obvious targets for my first ski day in the Northeast in a long time, add to the list the Outing Club only a mere 7 minutes from my house and shuttered on a vacation day due to lack of volunteers, Mount Eustis began to pop into my head. Did I dare try out a new area? Did I want to “waste” a day at such a small hill?

Being about 30 minutes from my parents’ home, and an easy drive, and having ample snow for skiing, I quickly warmed up to the idea. On the day before my flight I visited their website—they were open my first day here from 3-7pm and that would be perfect for someone with a bit of jetlag. The pictures on their Facebook page showed that they had snow, the rope tow going up half way, and snowmobile rides to the top. So in one week I’d go from Alta back home and ski Mount Eustis. My mind was made up.

I think that my siblings thought I was nuts. Though my brother had an appointment in Littleton, he had errands to run, and besides he never liked rope tows. My sister was more interested in entertaining my 3-year old daughter. So that left me free to throw the skis in the rental car and drive down 93. It looked easy to get to—and in fact it was—for those coming from Downtown Littleton the volunteers placed a big “Ski Eustis” Pyramid sign on the snowbank that was hard to miss. For those coming from 93 just take an immediate left after the Irving, drive down that street, and take your next left past an old farmhouse that looked like it might have once been a lodge for the ski area (and someone told me it was) and under 93 to the obvious parking area on the right.

I got there at 3pm sharp and took the opportunity to walk around and snap some photos. Having driven by it many times I was still taken aback by the beautiful setting—perched above 93 and overlooking the Whites and Downtown. As I walked up the road to the Warming Hut, I saw the handful of local town volunteers getting the Rope Tow started. The obvious leader, David Harkless, waved to me and gave me a big smile. I walked back down and got my skis and boots on.

My first stop was the Warming Hut to pay the $5 ticket fee and sign the waiver. I was greeted by Joe Lahout, of the Littleton Lahouts, who welcomed me.

“So are you going to try it?”
“Heck yes.” I said following him into their new Warming Hut.

It was obvious that these folks really loved their hill. The Hut had fresh paint on it as well as plans for the new rope tow and slope plan. They had a big sign thanking their donors and listing off many names of businesses and individuals who had helped this place reopen. The lodge replaced the vandalized cinder block building that had been recently razed and now had full electricity, an overhead yard light, and a new American Flag.

While I was expecting just a smile and thanks for coming to ski, I was handed an official “Ski Mt. Eustis” lift ticket, like the big areas, and a zip tie.

I walked out and over to the base intending to ride the rope tow, but instead was invited to take a spin to the top on the snowmobile before the line got too long. There was a family of four enjoying the rope tow—the kids just starting to ski.

Herb Lahout was my guide on the first snowmobile ride and did his part to welcome me. The idea was simple—he placed my skis on his lap and I rode behind him on the snowmobile hanging on for dear life on that first run. At the top he gave me a hand off and invited me to ski as much as I wanted that afternoon.

As he zipped down to pick up the next skier, I found myself on the top of the hill, under the cross, and overlooking what was probably the most beautiful view in town. Not only could one see the Opera House and Main Street down towards Herb and Joe’s family store, but the Presidentials rose above it all. The fact that this piece of heaven in the North Country had not become someone’s back or front yard was a miracle and every Littletonian should be thanking these folks for their efforts to reopen this gem of a hill.

After taking many pictures of the view, I started down groomed corduroy in dead center of the hill. The snow was just right—set up cold, firm, but yet edgeable. Their groomer had done a nice job. There were no sticks, rocks, or grass. It was edge-to-edge snow, which for an all natural ski area, was a real joy. The hill’s northeast exposure was perfect for snow preservation.

I took my time skiing down the nice, consistent pitch to the bottom.

“It’s so nice to see someone ski that with good form”, complimented Joe.

I humbly thanked him before trying the rope tow. For the beginner this was perfect—just enough of a slope to get some good turns before going up again. The little park—with a rail and some snow features—was perfect for jibbing. The area had four new bright lights illuminating the area.

I did a couple more runs on the snowmobile with Herb. After the first ride in several years, I got the hang of the snowmobile, which as I told him was the “fastest double chair in New Hampshire”. He encouraged me to ski the powder on the sides, which had not been crusted over. I skied both sides and found no ice and no crust anywhere. Skier’s right was boot deep powder with a nice cushion underneath. My western skis ate it up. Skier’s left had seen more traffic but still offered about 250 vertical feet of pure bliss.

For the next two hours I was one of about 15 patrons enjoying New Hampshire’s newest reborn ski area. After a couple runs, Herb and I talked skiing. Being the youngest, he admitted that he was a ski bum who spent winters in Austria during his 20’s. He pulled out a pocket full of stickers and insisted that I take some—he had Cannon, Loon, St. Anton/Arlberg were what he had handy. Later he gave me a few Eustis stickers. He later exuberantly told me of their ambitions for this area. “We really want to see folks using this—all year round—mountain biking, skiing, maybe concerts”, he said motioning to the lower slope. “It is a nice amphitheater.” I couldn’t agree more. He and his brother were very proud ski area operators and wanted to share it with everyone.

But skiing is a tough business. He said that he and the other directors were so happy that they opened during this snowy season. That was very good for business and enthusiasm. The fledgling non-profit had seen some small problems already. Though they received a nice Bombardier BR350 groomer from Bretton Woods, it needed a new $2,500 windshield. After it arrived from Quebec, Herb and the other volunteers unpacked it and went to put it in place when one of their helpers lost his grip and dropped it. “So we had to buy another one—that’s $5,000 right out of the kitty.” They also learned that their “simple rope tow” needed to comply with State Tramway code including the fact that the top station needed to have a clear line of sight down the slope to the base. That meant that the top station, to be erected this summer, will be three stories tall.

“We got to business and, without thinking in hindsight, planned on having the liftline end right at the middle of the summit. Well, it turns out that there are quite a few kids, nuns, and other folks who like to see that Cross on the top. So after some objections we had to move it over to the left and re-engineer the whole thing.”

That delayed construction of the new rope tow, but Bretton Woods was able to lend them a nice temporary tow that allowed them to get into business and another community member lent them a snowmobile to shuttle skiers to the top. At one point in my visit the machine ran low on fuel. Herb fished out some cash from his pocket and even asked me if I would drive it to the gas station. Within a few hours I had earned the trust of the folks who had put so much into this place. It was humbling. I politely turned him down and another new volunteer offered to drive it to the local Irving station down the hill.

This made the more-business oriented brother, Joe, a bit concerned. Him and Herb tangled a little bit before we talked more about their hill. The other big challenge for this hill was insurance—at $5,000 or so a year for premiums. They had raised enough to cover that but now knew that in the future they would have to plan on that annual expense. Still, their hope was to have this be a “donation” only place for locals to use and they hoped that those that could help would. In fact, Herb had asked me to join them. “You seem like a mechanically skilled guy and you know a lot about skiing.” I thanked him and said that I was from Utah visiting home, but I would help spread the word and try to send a donation when I could.

The snowmobile made it back—full of gas and in one piece. Both Joe and Herb insisted that I get on and do a few more runs. So I obliged. As I got to the top the sun was beginning to set on the Presidential’s. The view was impressive to say the least. After snapping some pictures, I skied down under the floodlights ready to go up again.
I ended up doing two or three runs on the rope tow and about seven runs on the snowmobile in between talking skiing with these folks. Upon hearing I was heading out, Herb offered me some more stickers and insisted that I take some homemade brownies for the short ride home.

I left the hill and drove into town intent on getting a hat and a shirt to help the cause. I ended up at the Littleton Bike & Fitness Shop, who I knew were a major sponsor of the hill. I met Dave Harkless, shop owner and the one who spearheaded the reopening of Eustis. He was a friendly, community-minded guy who I instantly liked. While digging out the right size shirt and a hat, he told me how he was snowshoeing up on Mount Eustis and thought it was such a waste that the hill was not open. So he united with some other like-minded citizens and made it happen. Harkless had been at the Hill when I first pulled in and was making sure that everything was ready to roll. He gave me a nice smile and wave when came to ski and now hearing from the guy who probably singlehandedly made my ski day possible was pretty cool. His shop was impressive. I thanked him and headed back to Vermont.

Mount Eustis is a nice, friendly place to ski and their story is pretty inspirational. Be sure to visit them.
 
Last edited:

thetrailboss

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Now some pictures:

The new sign:



Pano of the top:





 

Cannonball

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Very cool. Great report! Last year I took advantage of their clearing efforts and skinned/rode it a few times. That got me feeling pretty stoked on their dedication (and feeling a little guilty for using it) so I made a few donations. I hope to ski it officially this year. Their love of the hill and the sport is contagious.
 

thetrailboss

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Very cool. Great report! Last year I took advantage of their clearing efforts and skinned/rode it a few times. That got me feeling pretty stoked on their dedication (and feeling a little guilty for using it) so I made a few donations. I hope to ski it officially this year. Their love of the hill and the sport is contagious.

Spot on


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MadMadWorld

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I've grown tired of seeing mountains around here folding under. It's nice to see some come back....all 250 ft of vert!
 

Cannonball

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I skinned Monteau/Swiftwater the other day (another NELSAP). Although they aren't reviving the whole place they were selling hot chocolate out of the lodge and the boyscouts were sledding on the lower run. Including snowmobile rides up! Great local enthusiasm at these places!
 

thetrailboss

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I skinned Monteau/Swiftwater the other day (another NELSAP). Although they aren't reviving the whole place they were selling hot chocolate out of the lodge and the boyscouts were sledding on the lower run. Including snowmobile rides up! Great local enthusiasm at these places!

That looked like it was a decent area to ski...respectable vertical IIRC.
 

frapcap

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What they're doing for the community is pretty cool. Hope they can keep it up and keep going!
 
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