JUNIORS Thrush Rush
NH STATE PARKS; CANNON MOUNTAIN
Bicknell’s Thrush is a mountain bird.
The folks at Franconia, N.H., where a project is currently under way that will provide ski racers with a
rare eastern site for speed event training and racing, enthusiastically welcomed the ornithologists who
arrived on site bent on the protection of this bird of the mountains.
The thrush, realistically, was the least of the concerns they were facing. These guys were dealing
with skiers who had some reason to think their mountain, their private domain, their piece of history
was going to be taken away from them, given away to youngsters who couldn’t possibly understand
how unique and special their mountain — the underdeveloped Mittersill section of Cannon Mountain
at Franconia Notch — is.
Bicknell’s Thrush is as rare in the world of birds as Mittersill is in the world of ski areas. The two are
a fit among rarities.
The thrush is on the list of endangered species; officially classified as “vulnerable,” it is the only bird
species which breeds exclusively above 2,500 vertical feet in the northeastern U.S. The bird is dependent on “sky islands,” of which Franconia is one of a limited number.
Mittersill has actually been resurrected from having been extinct.
Making Franconia more rare is the miniscule number of speed racing sites in the East. You’ve got
Whiteface. You’ve got Sugarloaf. If all continues to go right, we’ll also have Franconia, rekindling an
historic episode in U.S. ski racing. Franconia was the site of the first U.S.-hosted downhill in World
Cup history, back in the opening season (1967) of the Cup. As he did at most of the stops that season,
Jean Claude Killy won that race.
Hanging out, literally, in a tree above that course was Mike Kenny, the “Uncle Mike” who is Bode
Miller’s most trusted coach. “Killy,” he says, “went right underneath me.” Today, when he is not helping guide his nephew through training and/or the World Cup schedule, Uncle Mike is promoting the
transformation of Mittersill into a world-class speed training area. He is pumped about the potential.
“It’s perfect,” he says, bounding along a soggy trail to the head of the proposed track to point out
features. “It’s just about an ideal profile. Steep on top, 90 meters wide at the top and right down the
fall line, nice roll off, about 10 to 12 gates of steep. Some rolls where the terrain changes and some
flat at the bottom. It’s got everything.”
What Mittersill doesn’t have is a ton of traffic, making it even better for speed training. But therein
lies the rub. Mittersill had been officially closed up until a few years ago when Cannon and the State
of New Hampshire did a land swap. The Forest Service got control of a chunk of the Long Trail, and
Cannon got back 85 acres of terrain that had hosted a ski area back in the 1930s, when the Taft trail
was first cut, and the 1940s, when Baron Hubert von Pantz began developing the Mittersill site. The
ski area operated into the 1970s. But other than for those choosing to hike in, the site hasn’t supported
ski traffic in decades. It’s still a bit rugged.
“There are four major entrances to the area,” explains operations manager Garreth Slattery. “And
there is a huge yellow sign posted at each
that says, basically, ‘You can die over here,
and if you do get hurt, it may take us awhile
to find you.’”
That’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but there is
an appeal and a very loyal following of skiers
who aren’t that keen on sharing “their” moun-
tain. It is the idea of having a speed training
area completely separate from the main ski
area (Cannon) that appeals most to Slattery,
mostly for safety reasons.
The new lift at Mittersill has seen three seasons now and it definitely has opened up the
area beyond what it had been, allowing for
reasonable access and use. Now, a T-bar will
be added to service the slalom hill along the
bottom of the new speed track. That is low
enough on the mountain that they could get
construction under way without waiting for
the end of the Bicknell mating season.
“I think,” says Slattery, “we can blend the
racing in over here. There will be complaints.
They complained about the lift, too, until it
went in. We’re not dumbing it down, but we
will make it accessible. We’re not going to
own another 85 acres of skiable terrain and
not do something with it.”
In terms of Eastern speed training, the area
should become a boon to the sport. “I’m a big believer in developing three or four-event skiers,” says
Martin Guyer, the Eastern Regional Development Director. “Having this dedicated speed track at
Franconia provides access and opportunity. They are at a premium. This improves our development
Eastern speed skiers may no longer be an endangered species.
Eastern speed skiers to get a training and racing
venue in New Hampshire BY HANK McKEE
Improvements at Mittersill
have undergone extensive