Last updated: August 27, 2019
Located on the a subpeak of Cannon Mountain known as Mt. Jackson or Mittersill Peak, Mittersill was once a groundbreaking ski area. Following its storied operational history, Mittersill sat idle for nearly 3 decades. It was incorporated into Cannon Mountain ski area in 2009.|
A youthful descendent of an Austrian iron fortune, Baron Hubert von Pantz acquired Schloss Mittersill Castle in the mid 1930s, appealing to a noble crowd. However, with the Nazis invading, von Pantz fled to the United States in the late 1930s, eventually landing in New Hampshire.
von Pantz was soon working to replicate his native resort, as he began advertising an Austrian Tyrolean ski lodge and village called Franconia Mittersill during the winter of 1939-40. The development was deeply rooted in skiing and mountain sports, as it was located near the foot of the storied Richard Taft Trail, down the road from the Cannon Mountain aerial tramway. A roughly 500 acre tract was reportedly purchased for $1,400 in 1940.
Lift served skiing at Mittersill proper started in February of 1942, when von Pantz opened a 1,250 foot long rope tow on a newly cleared slope a quarter of a mile from the end of the Richard Taft Trail. Advertised as the highest elevation rope tow in the East, the Mittersill operation could be accessed via road from Franconia Notch or via a two-mile sleigh ride from Easton.
Mittersill Becomes a Major Ski Area
Following World War II, Mittersill began to hit its stride, with the inn reportedly opening for the 1945-46 season. A program of land and chalet sales was also developed.
The 2,700 foot T-Bar in the 1960s
Mittersill achieved major area status in 1946-47 when it installed New Hampshire's second T-Bar lift. In addition, a skating rink was opened, as well as a restaurant. Bernie Herbert served as assistant to Baron Hubert von Pantz, who became a United States citizen in December 1946. Benno Rybizka directed the ski school that season, a post he would hold through the winter of 1948-49.
To augment the new lift, slopes were expanded for the 1947-48 season, while a rope tow was added to transfer skiers from the lodge to the base of the T-Bar. While the ski area was growing, extended periods with no snow were an issue. During the winter of 1948-49, a much anticipated Austria Cup was twice postponed due to lack of snow.
As the 1950s started, Mittersill was a happening place. Accomplished Swiss National Ski Team member Paul Valar established a ski school for the 1949-50 season, recruiting his wife, US Olympian Paula Kann Valar, one year later. A new road (cutting off the finish line of the Taft Trail), provided easier access to the resort, contributing in part to record crowds in times of good snow. In addition to skiing, skating, and dancing, interesting winter events were based out of the resort, such as tennis on the skating pond and auto racing on nearby Echo Lake. Such attractions were critical to the inn, as the winters of 1948-49 through 1950-51 had significant periods of minimal to no snowpack. In addition, the wind exposure of the area often blew the trails clear of snow. A November 1950 windstorm claimed the roof of the Mittersill hotel, reportedly sending it 100 feet above the trees.
Mittersill made national headlines in January 1952, when top ranked tennis players Billy Talbert and Pancho Segura played a tennis match on skates. Proceeds from the match were donated to the US Olympic Team.
The Austrian Schloss Mittersill club reportedly reopened in 1953, with Prince Alexander Hohenlohe joining the partnership. A jewel heist occurred at the Franconia Mittersill in the winter of 1952-53, when a former houseboy at the resort was arrested after stealing $3,000 in gems from a baroness staying at the resort.
General improvements were made at the resort for the 1954-55 season including a new cocktail lounge, expanded dining room, new rooms, and improved ski trails. The snowy winter season was a huge boost for business, with the inn doubling its guest count. Assistant Manager Eddy Sierstoff divulged some business insights to the press, stating that "Most of our clientele is from Boston, other Massachusetts points, Connecticut and New York - in that order" and that "We figure a guest spends an average of $17 a night while up here. That includes his lodging, meals, ski tow charges and liquor bill."
In 1955, Baron Hubert von Pantz married Theresa Nichols, widow of Avon Products President David H. McConnell Jr. For 1956-57 season, a connecting trail was cut to Mittersill from the recently opened Peabody Slopes at Cannon.
After having no skiing for significant portions of winters in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Mittersill installed snowmaking for the 1957-58 season. The new installation allowed for a mid-December opening in 1957, despite minimal snowfall at that juncture. However, subsequent weeks passed without cold temperatures, resulting in the ski area and snowmaker sitting idle.
In June 1959, the Mittersill Ski Lift Corporation was created, as the area underwent a significant expansion for the 1959-60 season. Skiable acreage was boosted by 50% to 60 acres when the vertical drop of the area was increased, thanks to the installation of a second T-Bar. Using leased state and federal land, the $150,000 project was designed by local Sel Hannah's Sno-Engineering, Inc. Further expansion plans were designed by Sno-Engineering in 1963 and 1965. An interchangeable ticket was introduced for the winter of 1959-60, allowing skiers to ride lifts at the interconnected ski areas. A new cafeteria was constructed for the 1960-61 season.
Asking Its Competitor to Let It Expand
While Mittersill was poised for another expansion shortly thereafter, the New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development, operators of Cannon Mountain, refused to grant permission. Not only was Cannon was undergoing a significant expansion while Mittersill was being blocked, but the two entities were locked in a legal fight over an incident in which Cannon refused to pay damages when a tractor Mittersill had loaned to Cannon caught fire. In an exchange of words at a hearing about the lease in the spring of 1963, a frustrated Baron Hubert von Pantz declared, "if the state doesn't want to cooperate with private enterprise, then why not buy it out. I'm prepared to sell."
Mittersill circa the early 1960s
The 1963-64 season featured a February that ranked as the best in the area's history at that point. 1964-65 got off to slower start, but Christmas week saved due to snowmaking. According to manager Charles Sachse, "the only reason we had good ski conditions when we did is because we had a good machine-made base to build on." Unfortunately, like many other areas, Mittersill was forced to close for a period in early February due to a thaw.
In the spring of 1965, von Pantz granted power of attorney to his wife's stepson's business partner, Robert C. Wetenhall. After some legal wrangling, Mittersill Ski Lift Corporation finally entered into a 21 year lease for 88 acres of state land in October 1965, at an initial rent of $700 per year. With the lease, Mittersill proposed a two stage expansion. The first stage would involve constructing a chairlift from the base of the ski area, through state land, and into US Forest Service land. The second stage consisted of a second double chairlift, running from near the top of the first stage chairlift to the summit of Mount Jackson. In addition, the second stage also called for Mittersill to take over the Tucker Brook Ski Trail. Combined, the two chairlifts would have increased Mittersill's vertical drop from roughly 750 feet to 1,750 feet.
The fall of 1965 also marked the beginning of the Ski 93 association. Mittersill manager Charles Sachse served as the first President of the association, which formally registered the trade name in the spring of 1966. Original members were Cannon, Loon, Mittersill, Tenney, and Waterville.
In 1966, a 3,982 foot long Hall double chairlift was installed, increasing Mittersill's advertised vertical drop from 800 feet to 1,500 feet. Mittersill's snowmaking investment once again paid off, as it was able to operate that December while Cannon unsuccessfully attempted to seed clouds via airplane.
As the 1960s progressed, the Mittersill Inn was so small that it was, according to Skiing magazine, "almost totally restricted to the long-time returnees and resident familiars." In December 1966, Baroness von Pantz's stepson David H. McConnell III, heir to the Avon Products fortune, and his business partner Robert Wetenhall entered into a 10 year lease of the Mittersill Inn, for $60,000 per year. Months later, work started on a new five story, $700,000 replacement of the inn. Some of the fireplaces and beams from the original inn were retained, while modern amenities were added, such as elevators, in-room telephones and televisions, and private bathrooms. Construction continued through the winter, reportedly growing the total project cost to $800,000.
A new expansion plan was generated by Sno-Engineering in March 1967, building on the stage one chairlift expansion. In April 1968, Mittersill Ski Lift Corporation entered into a supplemental lease for an area known as the West Bowl. Under the agreement, Mittersill could cut trails to the east of the ski area, though the state retained the right to construct its own trails and lifts in the tract. As a result of the lease, the legendary Baron's Run was cut for the 1968-69 season, corresponding with the debut of the new 55 room hotel. Also in 1968, Mittersill lost its corner on the manmade snow market, as the state installed a $544,000 snowmaking system at Cannon.
Paul Murray served as ski area manager during the late 1960s and early 1970s, followed by Colby Russell and Paul Valar.
The Baron Sells
Now that he was spending time redeveloping his Mittersill area in Austria, Baron Hubert von Pantz sold his stake in the New Hampshire Mittersill in the spring of 1971 to McConnell and Wetenhall, who at this point were perhaps best known for being part owners of the New England Patriots football franchise, as well as the Colony Hotel in Palm Beach.
The Baron (center) at the famous ice bar
While 1973-74 was a rough season across New England, Mittersill in particular was hit hard. Despite having expanded its snowmaking capabilities, Mittersill was unable to open the chairlift much at all due to warm temperatures and minimal snowfall, resulting in employees hauling snow from the woods onto trails. Ski operations shut down during the first part of March.
In July 1975, Mittersill hosted World Cup Hang Gliding meets.
As the 1970s progressed, the Mittersill Inn was closed on an increasingly frequent basis, due in large part to high energy costs. Winter operations of the inn ceased in 1976, while the ski area was cut back to weekend and holiday operations and withdrew from the Ski 93 group.
McConnell and Wetenhall decided to convert a wing of the inn into timeshares in 1978. Wetenhall formed the Franconia Development Corporation in June and leased the inn to the company in July. Paula Kann Valar was named General Manager of the ski area for the 1978-79 season and was actively involved in the timeshare project.
The various Mittersill operating entities were merged into Franconia Development Corporation in December 1981 with remaining properties being transferred to the company in 1982, now with John H. Wetenhall Jr. as President. The older brother of Robert, John was an advisor to President Ford and President Reagan.
Ski area operations continued to diminish in the 1980s, thanks in part to multiple bad winters. The National Forest permit expired in 1984, thus ending the independent Mittersill ski operation.
The old double chairlift at Mittersill (2008)
John Wetenhall remained President of the Franconia Development Corporation until Scott Worley assumed the title in 1989. Wetenhall passed away in 1993 at the age of 65.
Efforts to incorporate Mittersill into Cannon ramped up as the 1980s progressed. After acquiring 27 acres of Franconia Development Corporation's land near the bottom of the area in October 1990, the state pushed to either get a National Forest use permit or land swap for the rest of the Mittersill ski area property. Meanwhile, the Mittersill trail network was becoming a legendary sidecountry/backcountry destination.
Baron Hubert von Pantz passed away in 1991, followed by his widow Baroness von Pantz in 1998. Paula Kann Valar passed away in November 2001 at the age of 79. Paul Valar passed away on Christmas Day 2007 at the age of 87.
The State Takes Over Mittersill as a Backcountry Area
After years of negotiating, Mittersill was incorporated into Cannon Mountain ski area in 2009 via a land swap with the National Forest, on the condition that the original trail footprint would be honored. On the eve of the landswap, Cannon Mountain General Manager John DeVivo was quoted in The Boston Globe as saying, "I can't overstress the fact that it's going to remain rough," and that "once we do clear-cutting or full-blown grooming, you can't go back."
Backcountry is Phased Out
The backcountry emphasis of Mittersill was then gradually phased out. A new $3 million double chairlift replaced the old Mittersill chairlift, opening on January 1, 2011. With this opening, all uphill traffic was formally banned year round, including backcountry skinning for 'earned turns.' Trail grooming at Mittersill then debuted on February 11, 2011.
Construction of the Valar T-Bar (2016)
As a consequence of the new lift and uphill traffic ban, Mittersill remained formally closed for all but 5.5 days of the 2011-2012 ski season. That off-season, the Mittersill Racing Expansion Proposal was quietly released. In exchange for privately funded assets, the project would convert Mittersill into a state funded, semi-private racing facility. The proposal would significantly widen the Baron's Run, as well as creating a new, wider superslope that would run the length of the former (and to be replaced) longer T-Bar. In order to expand beyond the original footprint of the Mittersill trails, the state waived itself of Bicknell's Thrush habitat restrictions by placing nearby land in protection.
The new, wider version of Baron's Run debuted in December 2014, with snowmaking being installed one year later. In 2015, the widest slope in the state was cut up the middle of the pre-1966 Mittersill footprint, combining slopes and former lift lines. Snowmaking was installed on the superslope in 2016, as well as a T-Bar, named after the Valars.
The Taft Superslope (2016)
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Year by Year History
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|"HA ! The B&W photo looking down the t-bar lift brings back fond memories. Born in Littleton in '53, and starting skiing at 3 years old on Mittersill. My folks built and ran Flintlock Lodge near the bottom of 3 Mile Hill on
route 18. I was there every weekend, and on vacations from Franconia Elementary, which was then located in the Dow Academy building."|
|Mark Struhsacker, Mar. 29, 2019|
|"I went to Cannon with a friend in 2000 or so, with my then 10 year old son. We rode the tram to the Cannon summit and hiked across the Saddle and then snowboarded down the abandoned trails at Mittersill. We went too deep (missing the cutoff to get back to Cannon trails) and I recall trudging through the woods to get out. We did it at least one more time, correctly, and really had a great time overall. The trees were untrimmed, mostly, so it was tight through what is now the Mittersill Chair liftline, but it was fun. "|
|Bob Stein, Jan. 7, 2019|
|"I was there in the early 70'.I was 11 years old.My sister and I took a ski lesson on the bunny hill.what a great time at Mittersill! Then we went to cannon and went up on the tram.Wwwwow,the best time ever.I recommend Mittersill the best time.I wish someday to visit again.
|Mack Goldrick, Dec. 7, 2018|
Cannon Mountain - official site
Mittersill Ski Area - New England Lost Ski Areas Project
Taxpayers for Cannon