ROXBURY — Visitors to the Granite Gorge Ski Area last Sunday could tube down a slope next to Route 9 or practice their snowshoeing and skiing on the mostly flat children’s area.
But though the business was open that chilly afternoon, no one was skiing downhill.
The baby-blue seats of the chairlift hovered motionless from their cable. No one came down the unkempt ski slope, and no one was going up either.
Fred Baybutt — who the N.H. Secretary of State’s website lists as a member of Granite Gorge LLC, which owns the ski area — provided limited information about the chairlift Wednesday.
In an email chain that began with messages signed “Fred” and then transitioned to a “GG” signature or no signature at all, Granite Gorge didn’t answer several questions.
When asked if the chairlift and other equipment had been operating this season, Granite Gorge, signed GG, answered that there hasn’t been enough snow. A later unsigned email said there was not enough snow cover to safely open the chairlift trails because they are steeper than the slope used for tubing.
Granite Gorge noted in an earlier email that the ski area’s tubing park has been operating without any rain-related closures since the season began.
Baybutt hung up the phone after insisting a Sentinel reporter visit the ski area today with any questions. Emails from Granite Gorge made similar requests.
On Granite Gorge’s Facebook page, responses to patrons’ comments about downhill skiing — made even before the season began — were vague.
“Will you have downhill skiing this year?” someone asked in a Nov. 2 post.
“Primarily tubing and cross country skiing,” Granite Gorge answered.
And on Nov. 12, Granite Gorge responded to a post with: “We are doing our absolute best to bring you some skiing & riding this winter but we are starting off the season strong with tubing, Nordic skiing and novice lessons. It should be a season for the books, we hope to see you on the slopes!”
In an email Wednesday, Baybutt did say that after Tuesday’s storm, the ski area intends to have more equipment available soon.
“Now that we’ve received some snow, we plan on opening more lifts for the upcoming Holiday Week,” he wrote.
Neither Baybutt nor Granite Gorge answered a question in a follow-up email asking if the chairlift will be open for Presidents’ Day weekend.
Granite Gorge, which is on Route 9 in Roxbury, has been offering snow tubing since its season began Dec. 22, according to its Facebook page. Granite Gorge also offers skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and cross country skiing, according to an email from Granite Gorge.
Weather isn’t the only determining factor on whether certain pieces of ski equipment operate. To use the chairlift, the ski area must first register it each season with the state’s Tramway and Amusement Ride Safety department. The department oversees the state’s ski industry, according to its website.
Briggs Lockwood, the department’s bureau chief, said Wednesday that Granite Gorge had called to schedule an inspection of its wire rope tow, possibly for Friday, though an exact time had not yet been set. Lockwood said Granite Gorge did not discuss the chairlift with him during that phone call.
Lockwood said in an email last week that he inspected and registered a tubing conveyor and a short conveyor — mechanized belts that move people from one place to another — at Granite Gorge on Dec. 22, and those registrations are valid until May 14.
Inspections, he said, are not mandatory, although the Passenger Tramway Safety Board — which oversees the bureau — has a policy of inspecting ski equipment before granting a registration. Registrations are mandated by state law.
Granite Gorge has had some difficulties with its chairlift in the past.
Last year, the chairlift was out of operation for the first month of the season because of a faulty gearbox, Baybutt said at the time. That closure came roughly two years after an incident involving the chairlift in 2016. On Jan. 31 of that year, two of the lift’s seats collided when a problem with the carrier grip — which connects a chair to the cable carrying it — caused a chair to slide backward. No one was seriously hurt, but two people were taken to the hospital for evaluation.
Eleven days earlier, the state tramway bureau’s inspection had identified eight issues with the chairlift requiring attention. Lockwood, who conducted the inspection, previously told The Sentinel he confirmed with Granite Gorge via text message later that the issues had been addressed. He said at the time the identified issues were not related to the chairs’ collision.