Here is Andy Knight’s latest in a series of love letters to a ski resort!
By Andy Knight (right), President, Waterville Valley Foundation
What does change sound like? Sometimes it sounds like the quiet whir of an electric motor.
I grew up around diesel engines. My parents owned a small moving company, and from the time I could walk, I was around trucks every weekend and all summer long. I played around them, I worked around them, and I often slept in the sleeper cab while my father drove long distances. The sound of a diesel engine is oddly relaxing to me, and to this day, I retain the not-particularly-useful ability to tell the difference between a Cummins diesel engine and a Caterpillar diesel just by the sound.
It’s probably for that reason alone that I’ve always been willing to forgive the High Country Double’s sluggardly ways. When my kids were little, I found it somehow comforting to hear the putt-putt-putt of the old diesel, and it really wasn’t such a bad thing that the chair came around the bullwheel at the speed of a slow walk. The littlest kids could board without ever slowing the chair down. On the other hand, it was a little bit frustrating to see BBTS racers skating up the hill faster than the chair moved, and the 6 minute uphill-time for a couple hundred vertical feet was almost the same as the ride on the White Peaks Quad from the base to 3600 feet. If I was feeling charitable, I might tell you that it was a good place to go rest late in the morning.
Most of the time, though, I was not feeling charitable. The slow lift meant I seldom had the patience to go up to the summit. Worse still, my environmentalist sensibilities were rattled every time the engine belched to life with a big black plume.
That’s about to change, though. The venerable High Country chair [at Waterville Valley Ski Resort] is receiving a heart transplant this fall, with an efficient, and much faster, new electric motor. Skiers and the environment will both see an immediate improvement. Much shorter ride times will open the summit to the impatient, and should dramatically shorten early season lift lines. The old diesel engine, which produced hundreds or thousands of pounds of soot and carbon dioxide emissions each winter, is now a thing of the past.
Best of all, though, is the short-but-sweet terrain that a faster High Country chair opens up. In years past it was seldom worth the six slow (often cold) minutes up for the quick run down High Country. Because of its altitude — the chair tops out at 3800 feet — the runs on High Country are the first to open each fall. All winter long, you’ll often find untracked snow along either edge of the open slopes. And if you stay hard to skier’s left, you’ll find an under-appreciated delight — the soft, silent snow of Tangent, the natural-snow-only connector that runs from High Country to Periphery, bypassing the top of the Northside Double. Narrow and tunnel-like, Tangent is a throwback to the first trails cut on New Hampshire mountains, and on a good morning, it’s a great experience.
I’ll probably miss the comforting burble of the old diesel on the High Country Chair — but no where near as much as I will appreciate the swifter ride up to the summit.