AlpineZone Challenge 2011 – Fred Baybutt of Granite Gorge

The AlpineZone Ski Area Challenge was designed to provide a method for our forum members to get official answers to skiing-related questions directly from a ski area representative. Fred BaybuttOwner of Granite Gorge Ski Area in Keene, New Hampshire, took the AlpineZone Ski Area Challenge and provided the following responses on 8/29/2011:

thetrailboss: Fred–thanks for taking the Challenge and welcome as this is your first time! Last year I took my parents to the Keene Pumpkin Festival and I saw your VW van advertising the mountain. It is great to see that your hard work is paying off. Can you tell us what has been the best thing about reopening Granite Gorge? The biggest surprise? And what do you wish skiers and riders, like us, would know about owning and operating a ski area like yours? Thanks.

Fred: Best thing is it’s such an incredible area only minutes from Keene. The kids have totally embraced it. Biggest surprise is how beautiful it is. Granite Gorge has no debt and we will continue to upgrade the experience every year. This year, a new base lodge with the “Lookout Lounge”, kitchen dining, bathrooms and of course the new bag jump – best in NH.

roark: The target market for Granite Gorge is obviously the after school park kids (well, and tubing). The rail jams and big air events seem to draw well, and are great for the local kids. A couple years ago the chair was put in which enables access to the full hill again.

However, even living in Keene I have only skied Granite Gorge once as the pass price and day rates were so much higher than competitors like Crotched (I had a pass there for 2 years) and Pats Peak (best beer league racing around) relative to the product (vertical, open terrain). There were only a couple others riding the chair, while the park handle tow saw quite a bit of action. What efforts, if any, are being made to greater utilize that uphill capacity (and capital expenditure)?

Fred: Granite Gorge always has the lowest prices – always. Why would you drive to Crotched or Pats when Granite Gorge has much better terrain and no lift lines. GG feels more like Stowe or Mad River, it’s not homogenized like the NH areas you mention. Remember it was originally cut back in the late 50’s, has character and is much steeper than the other two.

roark: Many areas are relaxing uphill traffic restrictions (e.g. Magic). Given the size of Granite Gorge and narrow width of some of the flatter trails I can certainly understand prohibiting uphill traffic during operating hours. However, there are many days where the area is not operating and no mountain ops work is being done – what is your policy on uphill traffic at those times? I would have loved to skin a couple laps before work…

Fred: We’d be glad to have you come skin either the Monadnock trail or the Sunset Trail to the top – many do.

deadheadskier: I’d like to know a bit of history about Granite Gorge. How long it had been closed when you reopened it? What made you decide you wanted to own a small ‘feeder’ area?

Fred: Originally opened as Pinnacle Mountain in 1959 after being selected as the best location in southern NH (they didn’t pick crotched or pats). Stayed open until 1977 due to lack of funding. We started with a clean slate, everything is new and dependable. At the heart is an incredibly powerful and efficient snowmaking system.

Ideal conditions include infinite water supply withdrawn directly from the river at the ideal temperature of 33 degrees. As an accomplished skier, the mountain offers so much I don’t need to go feed to anyplace else in the east.

deadheadskier: What are your thoughts on Maple Valley trying to reopen? Will Maple Valley cut into some of Granite Gorge’s customer base?

Fred: Forget it, bad location, lousy terrain and $3 million to get it ready to find that out.

Nick: What do you consider the “”must come”” feature of Granite Gorge, and what makes Granite Gorge special?

Fred: The beautiful varied terrain. Insider’s tip; powder days are still not crowded and you can find stashes days after the storm. The mountain is protected from the wind on all four sides so the powder stays put. I’ve been up to my knees more times than I can tell you in the last few years. This season we had so much snow the gang was skiing straight down under the chair on the top of Main Street. There is a stretch of the trail that is basically a cliff. The rest is super-steep. You can’t find something like this in southern Vermont and New Hampshire, except at Magic.

Best tubing park in New England. Two minute carpet ride up to slide 600 feet of park! Any style you want to slide – no rules!

thetrailboss: I think that you have night skiing. Do you find that night skiing is successful? If so, what do you attribute that success to? Location? Price? Special events?

Fred: Nightskiing is awesome – racing, winter youth, terrain, tubing you name it. Granite Gorge has the best lights money can but. Over one hundred lights from the top. 1000 Watt lamps that cost $1000 just for the bulb! These provide incredible night vision on the trails and provides a great experience.

bobbutts: What’s the terrain like at Granite Gorge? Is it steep, narrow trails, flat, wide open, etc.? What is the average snowfall? What are your typical opening / closing days?

Fred: As I’ve said you’ve got beautiful, varied terrain and fantastic snow – protected from the wind. Due north face with shoulders that catch the sun during the day as they face east or west. East facing Monadnock trail from the top gets beautiful sun in the morning. This wide, leveled trail has terrain elements from top to bottom and is a favorite for freestylers’! Sunset is named for the beautiful afternoon and sunsets. Faces west with beautiful views of Vermont including Mount Snow, Okemo, Stratton and Bromley. Wide intermediate groomer – lots of fun to go fast on with soft snow!

Our average snowfall is around 100 inches.

As for opening and closing days, we hold an annual Thanksgiving Kickoff Rail Jam in the Granite Gorge park and close after Saint Patties.

bobbutts: Does the chairlift close very often in wind? Would Granite Gorge be a good place to go on a storm day where upper mountain lifts may be closed at larger mountains?

Fred: We’ve only had to close twice in five years now. The chair is strung low (although it is totally designed at a height to ski under at all times) so it stays out of the wind and is protected by thick, tall spruce trees on both sides. Any storm day is fun on Granite Gorge.

bobbutts: What is your grooming policy? Do you leave any trails purposely ungroomed, and how do you handle moguls?

Fred: We have superior snowmaking and grooming. We have a brand new Prinoth Beast groomer with a powerful cat 350 engine. Excellent operators. We leave the Headwall trail ungroomed and all natural – 40 degree pitch. We leave the east side (left looking up) side of Main Street ungroomed and it bumps up beautifully and also prolonged powder piles.

To view forum comments on this Challenge and the Challenge Results, please visit the following page: