State-owned Cannon Mountain, which is part of Franconia Notch State Park, can move forward with major improvements to its iconic aerial tramway after the state legislature approved an $18 million appropriation to the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (DNCR) to fund “maintenance and operation” of the tramway.
The final cost of the improvements won’t be known until the open bid process is completed. Cannon general manager John DeVivo told SAM that Cannon, N.H. State Parks, and the N.H. Division of Public Works “have been working with engineers for quite some time now in making our assessments” to determine the condition of the tramway’s systems and infrastructure.
“We believe that the track cables (on which the carriage assemblies roll), towers, concrete tower bases, top and bottom receiver buildings and steel superstructure are in fine condition,” he said, “and would of course look for confirmation [of those findings] in dealing with a winning bidder.
“Beyond that, all primary systems are within the current project scope,” he continued, including tram cars, carriage assemblies, hanger arms, haul rope, electrical and electromechanical systems (drive, brake, safety, etc.).
The original request was for $25 million, which was the amount originally estimated to cover all primary systems of the tramway. DeVivo said that if the items deemed to be in fine condition are confirmed as such by any prospective and/or winning bidder, then $18 million may cover the project, but, “We’re exploring several ideas and options right now, so that we can address any shortfall that a bidding process may reveal,” he said.
The project could go out to bid as early as late summer, according to DeVivo, but no definitive timeline has been set, and the bidding process will take some time, he said. It’s estimated that the project will take a summer and a winter, and possibly into the following summer, to complete. DeVivo hopes work can begin by summer 2025. “But it’s still early in the game, and we’ve got to let prospective bidders figure out their capabilities and calendars,” he said.
Three contractors have expressed interest since the project initiative was first announced in July 2021, said DeVivo.
Money for capital projects at Cannon rarely come from the state’s general fund, i.e., taxpayer dollars. Taxpayers funded half ($1.365 million) of the Mittersill double chair construction in 2010, a project stewarded by then Gov. John Lynch and the Senate Finance Committee as an economic stimulus project for northern New Hampshire.
Otherwise, most capital projects over the last 15 years at Cannon have been funded through the Cannon Mountain Capital Improvement Fund, which is funded by lease revenue paid by Vail Resorts for the operation of Mount Sunapee, which is located in Mount Sunapee State Park.
The original Cannon Aerial Tramway first took flight in 1938. The current tram was installed in the late-1970s and opened in 1980. It has had several major upgrades since.
DeVivo stressed that the tramway is not strictly transport for skiers and riders in winter. “It’s very important to us that people understand that we [Cannon Mountain, Franconia Notch State Park, and N.H. State Parks] view this as far more than just a ‘skiing or ski area discussion,’” he said. “This is about an iconic, destination-based, and generationally loved tourist attraction that acts as an economic anchor point in the spring, summer, and fall, both for the N.H. State Park system and the Franconia region.”
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