|Northfield, New Hampshire|
|Vertical Drop:||700 feet|
|Standing Lifts:||1 triple|
|Past Lifts:||Surface lifts|
|Left: The Highlands circa the late 1960s or early 1970s|
|Recent NewEnglandSkiIndustry.com News:
|8/10/2016: Borvig Chairlift at Highland to Close fo...|
Last updated: May 24, 2022
Located southeast of Tilton, the Highlands ski area operated for nearly three decades on the north face of Bean Hill. The ski trails were subsequently repurposed as downhill trails as part of Highland Mountain Bike Park.|
Early Skiing Attempts at Bean Hill
Prior to the construction of the Highlands, Bean Hill was home to an alpine ski trail named the Bean Hill Trail. Though constructed in the CCC trail building decade of the 1930s, it is unknown if the organization was involved with the Bean Hill Trail. The trail may have been later incorporated into the western side of the Highlands ski area.
Plans for a lift served ski area on Bean Hill were developed in 1965, however interested parties were unable to obtain adequate funds. Around this time, the Elliott family began surveying the area. A longtime salesman for Scott and Williams Knitting Machine Company, Robert Elliott had also developed summer cottages on Sandogardy Pond in Northfield. In August of 1967, the non-profit Northfield Development Corporation was founded by locals. With the company established, $160,000 in Small Business Administration loans were obtained for the development of a ski area on Bean Hill. In October of 1967, Highland Ski Area, Inc. was created.
The Highlands Opens
The Highlands ski area opened in late December 1968, initially on the lower mountain, as the summit T-Bar was not yet operational. At full operation, the ski area debuted with two T-Bars, two rope tows, two slopes, and 6 miles of trails, apparently designed to resemble a mini-Stowe. Night skiing was also available. The base lodge was constructed by Elliott and his two sons, Robert Jr. and Jeff. The formal dedication of the ski area was held on February 2, 1969 with Governor Walter Peterson and Congressman James Cleveland in attendance.
The Highlands during the debut season
The area was advertised as a family operation (run by Robert Elliott, his wife Marilyn, and three children) geared toward families. Robert Elliott Jr., who headed up the ski school, was advertised as famous for being "one of the somersaulting skiers at Killington." Around the time of the opening, Robert Sr. stated, "I guess being an outdoor family - we operate summer cottages in the area - always made us somehow think we'd like to operate a ski area. Now we've got our chance. We may go broke doing it - but we're having a lot of fun doing it."
Future plans called for the installation of a chairlift and trails to the east of the initial ski area.
A Poma lift and slope were likely added for the 1969-70 season. By the early 1970s, the area advertised 9 trails and slopes. The base lodge featured a snack bar, ski shop, nursery, and fieldstone fireplace. On the other side of the parking lot, the Rob Roy Lounge was advertised for apres ski activities.
S A L Enterprises likely took over as the operator of the ski area following the 1978-79 season, as Robert and Marilyn Elliott looked towards retirement.
The Highlands circa the late 1960s or early 1970s
Lacking snowmaking, the Highlands struggled at the start of the 1980s, reportedly not operating during the 1979-80 season, with the Nashua Telegraph describing the area as "a very real example of the need for snowmaking." A January 1981 review cited closed trails and slopes "rife with bare spots and ice," adding, "Give the place some snow, though, and it's a joy."
Off-season events were pushed in the early 1980s, including a Bluegrass Festival
and the 1983 Harvest Moon Folk Festival featuring John Prine, Tom Rush, Loudon Wainwright III, and opening comedian Jay Leno.
Following the 1983-84 season, owner Sal Manuel placed ads for taking over the ski area, which was billed as a "golden opportunity." A local couple may have operated the area for the 1984-85 season.
Mid 1980s Development
Big changes were announced in the mid 1980s, as the Highlands looked to move into the modern age with new ownership. Highlands Mountain, Inc. was registered New Hampshire in December of 1985, with Dennis DiPrete (son of Rhode Island Governor Edward DiPrete), Paul Sullivan, Mark Manuel, and Paul Marchionda as incorporators. Diane Elliott Moreau, the youngest child of the Elliott family, was named operations manager. A few months later, the property was likely acquired by the group from Robert Elliot and Northfield Development Corporation. Moreau told the Boston Globe, "It was depressing to see this place go downhill. I knew the potential was there. I like challenges, and I want to see this place really come back. I want it to succeed and I know it can. We know what the public wants, a family environment that's quieter than some of the bigger places."
A three-year plan commenced, including the installation of snowmaking, more lighting, additional terrain, and condominiums. The expansion was capped with the installation of a new Borvig triple chairlift in 1987. In conjunction with the new lift, snowmaking and night skiing were expanded to the summit. Diane Elliott Moreau served as general manager, while Bob Elliott Jr. returned to the Highlands to serve as assistant manager and to coordinate the expansion. Robert Elliott Sr. passed away in the fall of 1987.
Snowmaking and night skiing terrain were reportedly expanded for the 1988-89 season, while a new ice skating pond was also advertised.
On the evening of September 1, 1989, a Cessna 172P flying in bad weather from Laconia to Newburyport crashed on Bean Hill near the ski area. The two couples on board died in the crash.
While a new novice trail was cut from the summit and a snowboard halfpipe possibly constructed for the 1989-90 season, severe financial problems were mounting. The Highlands found itself on the auction block in December of 1990 and almost did not open for the 1990-91 season.
Richard Shea purchased the ski area at auction circa early 1991 and began operating it with his wife and grown sons.
The Highlands made headlines in early 1992 when the Sheas and Rep. Tom Salatiello went to the press with complaints about Belknap County-owned Gunstock being given an unfair advantage. Their complaints included the removal of the Highlands sign from Interstate 93 and $100,000 in government funds given to Gunstock for night skiing improvements.
The Highlands' woes continued in 1993 when its electricity was cut off due to mounting debt. A diesel generator was installed to keep the area operational while the bills were paid down.
The Highlands once again ended up on the auction block on October 11, 1995. Dan Enwright purchased the area for a fraction of the assessed value and was optimistic about its prospects. However, Enwright soon discovered the snowmaking system was non-functional, the lodge in disrepair, and the electrical system a mess. In addition, Enwright ran into issues in obtaining a clean title, so repair work was delayed. He later reflected, "If I knew on the 11th what I know today, I would have sold it in the parking lot."
The idle base area prior to the construction of the bike park (2002)
While the area was advertised for the 1995-96 season, there is no record of it actually opening. The area served as a venue for the New Hampshire Feminist Connection Music Festival in September 1996, then fell victim to vandals in subsequent years.
Highland Mountain Bike Park
While nearby ski areas attempted to purchase the triple chairlift, the lift and the ski area sat idle into the early 2000s. Around this time, Mark Hayes visited Whistler Blackcomb in Canada and was inspired by their mountain bike trail network. Reportedly fresh off the heels of his family selling its fiber optics company, Mark Hayes formed Gravity Mountain, Inc. on May 15, 2003 and acquired the property in June. Ski trails were filled with various ramps and jumps for talented bikers, who would be transported to the top via the triple chairlift. Circa 2007, the chairlift was retrofitted with bike carriers and an unloading ramp. The mountain bike park sold 4,000 day passes that year.
The base area in 2013
The Highland Mountain Bike Park has become a nationally known destination for mountain bikers. In 2018, the park recorded 30,000 riders. While there have been rumors that limited ski operations could resume in the future, the park remains biking-only at this point.
Bikers passing the former T-Bar terminal (2017)
Click on lift name for information and photos
Year by Year History
Adult Weekend Full Day Lift Ticket; Adult Full Price Unlimited Season Pass
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|"The Yanakakis family and the Howard family started skiing the Highlands around 1970 or so when I was about 9. I know that all the previous Sundays at Whittier since I could stand were a longer drive from Lynn, MA and more expensive. At the Highlands my dad could ski with up to 5 kids for a something like $5-$9 a ticket. Steve Howard my sister Lisa, and I would ski all day, with only a stop for lunch. We thought we were pretty cool doing back scratchers off the numerous burrs that lined the edges of the left side of the mountain. We would wait at the top at 4 o'clock until the ski patrol told us we had to go. We were waiting so that virtually everyone was off the mountain. We would proceed to tuck the mountain. I was never clocked, but have to assume I was exceeding 45-50 MPH. Felt like 100 :). Yes, that is something that couldn't happen today, and probably for the best. But what a lot of fun we had. We would wind down with a little body sledding on the incline next to the Rob Roy, while the parents had a quick one inside. What? It was the 70's!"|
|A.J. Yanakakis, Dec. 5, 2021|
|"I have great memories from the mid-1980s of Friday night skiing at Highlands. We were 15 and 16 and it was such an amazing Friday night experience for a teenager. I remember many nights when it was below zero and crystal clear. We loved it. I live in Texas now and am about to introduce my teenage son to skiing in Colorado. But there is nothing like learning mostly on New England Ice! Happy memories to all.
|Chris Rowley, Feb. 17, 2021|
|"I skied at the Highlands for years. Our family were season ticket holders for years. I was a part time instructor there for a couple years and many friends were instructors and ski patrol. It was a fantastic family place. We had pot luck suppers there and the families would all end up in the Rob Roy lounge after a day of skiing while us kids would move all our parents cars up at the end of the day. Miss the people, and friends. This was all in the early to mid 70's. We used to all ski "hotdog" back then. A group of us would build flip jumps secretly and practice forward and back flips on 2 when it ws closed. I remember following Bob Elliott Jr down 4 to 5. Ah the memories... miss it."|
|Rick OHare, Nov. 21, 2020|
|"Skied the Highlands with my family as a kid from late 70s until mid or so 80s. Reading these posts brings back many great memories from that time. I remember the names and people. I remember the thrill of ripping down trail # 1 but my favorite was always the # 9. You could also make those T-bars "launch" you when going up a steep hill. During that time the mountain was almost like a private family club, the same folks every weekend to play with! The adults used to bust out the crock pots full of yummies, snacks and of course the Coors light and various 70s brands of Vino were always flowing. At night, they would retire to the Rob Roy for Snow-snakes I think is what they called them :) As a kid after a fun day of skiing, there were the arcade games downstairs in the main lodge next to ski rentals and of course the sledding on trail # 5. Good times "|
|Ed Cocci, Jr, Dec. 13, 2017|
|"The week my youngest nephew was born in 1990 I was picking up his older brothers Ryan and Micheal Dempsey from The Highlands. they had skied all day. I will never forget being stuck in my car, off the side of the road heading up to the lodge. I tried to get out of the car to walk up, and promptly fell on the sheer ice of the road. People were wonderful and tried to push the car out of the snowbank. Somehow the boys knew enough to come down and they had called their step-dad to come to the rescue. He came with a shovel, dug the car out, put shingles under the tires and I was free! Later, while in high school my nephews became Ski Instructors here. They loved it, it was close to home, and a great place for kids. :)"|
|Mary Lou Conton, Feb. 3, 2015|
|"I grew up in Northfield-- just down Bay Street from the Elliotts-- and learned to ski at Highlands the first winter it opened. 1968-69. Ernie Hutchins was my instructor. We had so much snow that winter that what my mom referred to as the 'back way' to the mountain-- Turnpike Road to Keasor Road to the road to the lodge-- was impassable half the time. Ernie and Bob Elliott, Jr. were aerial pioneers; they were about the only guys in the country doing flips on skis in 1969. Their tandem jumps were wicked cool. A few years later, Bob, Jr. had a trampoline set up at his house to practice aerials during the summer. From the time I learned to ski until I left for college, my friends and I spent nearly every weekend there was snow at Highlands. The area had a season pass deal for local school kids, which I remember being $35 in the winter of '78-'79. Loved night skiing at Highlands, particularly as a high schooler. No coolers needed for... uhh... refreshments. Just leave them under the car in the parking lot or at the top of #5 in the trees. I loved that little hill. "|
|Michael Piper, Aug. 6, 2014|
|"My aunt and uncle managed and then owned the Highlands. Both have since passed. Spent all my winters from 1981-1991 there. Many summers helping to clear brush from slopes. I remember Elmer the handyman and when I was first allowed in the Rob Roy Lounge, lol. Nightskiing, family atmosphere and nighttime parties. I Would like to find a poster or sign for some memories."|
|Howie Smith, Jul. 23, 2014|
|"We moved to NH in mid 1968. I went to work for Bob Elliott Sr a week before the area officially opened. It was the great winter of 68/69, one of the heaviest NH snow years ever. In Feb of 69 we had three snowstorms that dropped 78 inches of powder. The snow was so deep that it buried the T-bars and ski racks The area stayed open its first year until mid April.I worked with the Elliott family for over three years. In those days you did a little bit of everything. Bob Jr and I ran the ski school, groomed the slopes, cut brush, tended bar, and just about anything else you could imagine. In 1969 my wife and I build our first home at the bottom of the access road. It was the first house built in the area. Still there I think. Highlands was a family ski area, with most of its customers from the local area, Concord, Manchester, and MA. It was a very successful area in the ten years the Elliotts were owners."|
|Ernie Hutchins, Feb. 7, 2014|
|"We lived in NH from the mid-80's to the mid 90's and remember skiing there a lot of evenings. This is where we learned with our 2 young children, on ICE. It was a learning experience and we grew to enjoy it. Loved seeing the sparks of our edges cutting thru the ice covered slopes. Sad to see it closed, good family and friends there. "|
|Rod & Karen Dietrich, Dec. 30, 2013|
Highland Mountain Bike Park
Highlands Ski Area - New England Lost Ski Areas Project