ROXBURY — Infrequent winter weather and permit setbacks delayed Granite Gorge Mountain Park’s launch this season, but with enough in place to operate and a couple inches of snow this past weekend, the reimagined ski area welcomed its first guests in nearly three years Saturday.
The park announced on social media late Friday night it would be opening at 9 a.m. the following day.
“We definitely did a few grand in sales and we only opened up sales initially for Saturday, Sunday and Monday,” General Manager Keith Kreischer said Monday night. “With a really delayed announcement on Friday, I thought we did very well; [Monday] was probably our busiest day.”
Granite Gorge, which initially eyed an mid-December opening, had something of a soft opening, with just the handle tow of its Park Avenue trail — one of 17 at the facility — and the four lanes of its tubing park open, Kreischer said, adding that a lot of the licenses needed came last minute. One was an occupancy permit for a lodge planned to open later this season, for which the park got the green light from Roxbury Fire Chief Tim Mason this past week, according to Kreischer.
“This year, we kind of looked at it as just getting ourselves back open,” Kreischer said. “... We’re hoping we’ll have lessons available by next week, and we just want to make sure we’re doing everything right.”
The park will also soon offer equipment rentals, and Kreischer credited officials at Pats Peak Ski Area in Henniker for their help finding cost-effective gear to purchase.
Kreischer added that a mild winter thus far has contributed to the park’s delayed opening. He said rainfall melts the snow and refreezes what’s left, creating what he called “dead snow.”
“We have not had one single day that we’ve been able to make snow for at least 24 hours straight,” he said. “I’ve never really encountered a winter where that has ever happened in my career, especially this late into January.”
The Granite Gorge property first opened as a ski area in 1959 as Pinnacle Mountain and closed in the 1970s, a Sentinel report from 2003 stated. Fred and John Baybutt purchased the land in 2003, reopening it under the name “Granite Gorge.” The site closed in 2020 after a series of near-foreclosures and reported safety infractions troubled the site starting in 2013 and went up for sale.
Several local investors purchased the land for $430,000 at a foreclosure auction last June, with Bryan Granger, a senior vice president of Keene-based C&S Wholesale Grocers, placing the winning bid. Granger represented Granite Gorge Partnership, LLC at the auction, the driving force behind the winning bid. Though several members of C&S leadership head the partnership, Kreischer said the company is not involved in the newly reopened Granite Gorge.
In Granite Gorge’s first season back, Kresicher said the chairlift, which still needs to pass inspection, is central to the rest of the park’s return. He said the 1,333-foot lift, with a vertical rise of 350 feet, has been heavily refurbished by both park officials and Tim Pfister of Rumney-based Pfister Mountain Services.
“[Pfister] is really experienced, so he should be wrapping up our new [emergency] brake system and wiring all the electronics necessary for that,” Kreischer said. “... It’s a lot of that end of the road work that needs to be done.”
Seats on all the lifts were removed, sanded and restained, according to Kreischer, who said the majority of the machine’s components have been replaced. He noted park officials removed the midstation that was previously in place, so machine operators will control the lift from the top. A midstation is a structure between the top and bottom allowing skiers to load or unload or both.
“It’s going to be less people that we have to manage; really it was not the best setup safety-wise to have a midstation unloading into such a narrow trail with oncoming traffic,” Kreischer said.
He said the chairlift upgrades comply with the latest safety standards developed last year by the National Ski Areas Association. Under previous ownership of the ski area, a mechanical issue caused a chair on the ski area’s double chairlift to slide backward down the lift in an incident January 2016. The chair collided with the next chair, which was carrying two children, the Sentinel reported. The adults in the defective chair were taken to Cheshire Medical Center and later released with no major injuries, while the kids were unharmed, authorities said at the time.
Granite Gorge’s lodge at the base of the slopes has undergone a full-scale renovation, and Kresicher said it should be ready for guests once the park can secure additional operational licenses its management is hoping to “tackle this week as best as we can.” The lodge has been repainted and refurnished, its tap lines for beer and soda have been replaced and a bar inside will offer guests a bite to eat after they carve the snow.
“The guts and the core of the building are still the same, and we’ve also upgraded our liquor license to extend out around to our new fire pit outside the deck,” Kreischer said. “We’re really trying to make it more of a family experience where people can come in and enjoy [the lodge]. We’ve gone super simple with the menu to try to keep it as affordable as possible, to keep it simple for our staff ... and keep it healthy with good options.”
Kreischer said the park is “very well staffed” for its reopening, with about 70 people hired on for a number of roles, including some who were employees at the original iteration of Granite Gorge. He said positions include retirement packages, competitive pay and flexible hours and that the park is only seeking a few additional ski instructors.
General admission passes are offered in two- and four-hour increments offered at a lower rate until the chairlift fully opens, after which guests will be charged full price for tickets. Current weekday rates for skiers age 6 and up $18 for two hours and $34 for four hours, while weekend and holiday rates are $25 for 2 hours and $38 for 4 hours, according to the park website. Children age 5 and under can ski free.
Season passes are also anticipated to come at the end of this week, set at $359 for adults ages 25-64; $315 for children, seniors and military servicemembers; $495 for businesses (with no limit on the number of employees) and $270 for college students ages 18-24, according to Kreischer. He said season passes are in limited supply and the prices are 10 percent off the originally planned prices on account of the park’s delayed opening.
Granite Gorge’s operating hours, weather allowing, are Monday, Wednesday and Thursday 3-9 p.m., Friday 2-10 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m.-10 p.m. and Sunday 9 a.m.-4 p.m. The ski area is closed Tuesdays. During the week of Feb. 20-24, when many local schools are off, Granite Gorge will be open Monday to Thursday from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. and 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday. Kreischer said the ski area aims to be open until April, if weather allows.