Though it now conjures images of typical post-industrial recession, the north of New Hampshire once attracted the world’s rich and famous, who sought retreat and respite in any one of the region’s many luxury hotels and resorts.
The Wentworth by the Sea, the Mountain View, and the Mount Washington Hotel are just some of the grand bastions of elegance dating back to the nineteenth century. With easy access to the White Mountains, Lake Winnipesauke, sprawling golf courses, miles of top-notch ski trails, and the great untamed woods of northern New England, these hotels offered the perfect destination vacation for any outdoorsy adventurer who also happened to appreciate five-star dining.
But several of these hotels and resorts have had to close or severely scale back over the past few years due to the typical cocktail of economic slow-down and shrinking workforce that’s hobbled New Hampshire’s northern counties.
Recently, however, moves have been made to reinvest in the historic grand hotels, starting with the 11,000-acre Balsams Resort in Dixville Notch.
Les Otten is currently the latest developer trying to get the once-glitzy resort back on its feet. There’s reason to think Otten knows what he’s up to—he climbed the ranks from a chairlift operator at Killington Mountain, Vermont, to become CEO and Chairman of the American Skiing Company, which at its height ran nine of New England’s premier ski resorts—but even for a turnaround artist of his talent, challenges remain.
Certain key permits remain outstanding and the scale of construction and renovation intended for the site is staggering. Otten is hoping the state of New Hampshire will support the $143 million project with a $28 million loan, a request which has yet to be approved by lawmakers in Concord.
Even assuming the proper permissions are granted, Otten faces the not insubstantial challenge of convincing skeptics that what the chronically depressed area needs is another ski resort. If he succeeds, he’ll be the first to do so in some thirty-five years.
Any project of this size requires not just government support, but the enthusiasm of the local population, who don’t want to see the area reduced to merely a playground for the super-rich.
Perhaps this determined developer can manage to bring some life back to the hinterlands of the Granite State.
Photo: the Balsams Resort. Image from mapio.net.