Due to its bankruptcy and closure in 2011, the Balsams Resort and the Balsams Wilderness Ski Area have sat dormant for a decade. But could the long-closed resort finally reopen? The Boston Globe reports that owner and ski resort pioneer Les Otten is aiming to reopen the mountain for the 2022-23 season, and have the hotel open in the summer of 2024. According to the Conway Daily Sun, Les Otten is now planning on having a national nonprofit corporation construct a new hotel and conference center on the site. The new hotel will be financed by tax-exempt bonds from financial firms like Goldman Sachs. The county won’t face any financial liability from these investments. Some of the old buildings that make up the historic Balsams Hotel(Dix and Hampshire Houses) will be restored and renovated. Phase one of the development will include renovating the Balsams “Wilderness Ski Area with new lifts and snow-making; renovating the historic Dix and Hampshire houses; building the new Lake Gloriette Hotel and conference center; revitalizing the Panorama Golf Course; adding Nordic baths, a retail marketplace, and fine dining and culinary offerings; and a Planned Unit Development for the future development of up to 4,600 four-bedroom equivalent lodging or residential units.”
According to InDepthNH, the Coos County Commissioners approved the plans 2-1 on Monday, leading the way for Les Otten to churn up more investors for the grand project. Could this mean the hotel, and thus the ski resort, be coming back? Some details about the ski area expansion, along with the feasibility of these plans are below.
The Ski Area Expansion: The Balsams Wilderness has been closed since 2011. The original plans involved twenty-two lifts on 2200 acres of skiing terrain. The latest from the 2021 meeting noted that Otten said “the report on the viability of skiing will also be redone,” meaning that their extremely ambitious expansion plans could be toned down a bit. Based on their initial projections, the reopening and massive expansion will cost $180 million. Pictures of the expansion are below.
Are These Plans Feasible? The project has been in limbo for half a decade due to a variety of issues, such as financial battles, an environmental review, and the pandemic. The real progress has happened this year though. One bump for Les Ottens’s team was getting complete ownership of all the properties. According to the AP, Les Otten finally got the other 50% share of the Balsams from a contractor in January. Also in January, “Coos County Planning Board granted a four-year extension for the project’s Planned Unit Developmental Conditional Use Permit, which was set to expire this month.”
In terms of the lodging portions of the resort, I can definitely see them reopening fully at some points once we get back to officially normal in the United States. In terms of the ambitious ski area reopening and expansion though, I have my doubts. Who knows though, Les Otten has pulled off some crazy ski resort expansion projects (Sunday River and the Canyons) in the past. If it happens, I’ll be up there every weekend.