Lights shining on skiing debate
Many of us were either attracted to New Hampshire, or chose to stay in the region, because of the Granite State’s famed quality of life. But it’s how we choose to define that overused and sufficiently vague term, “quality of life,” that often pulls us in opposite directions.
For some, our region’s quality is illuminated by the brilliant night sky. For others, quality means living in a recreational paradise, a place where you can work all day, jump on the slopes at night, and still make it home for a hot dinner.
These are the ideals playing out right now, and certainly in the months ahead, as Francestown’s Zoning Board determines whether it will grant Crotched Mountain Ski and Ride a variance to the town’s lighting ordinance.
It may seem like a small point, but it has enormous implications. And it has led to some fiery public meetings. In a nutshell, when Crotched expanded to a higher point on the mountain before the start of last year’s ski season, it agreed to comply with Francestown’s lighting ordinance for all new light towers. But many residents, some as far away as Hancock, Stoddard and Nelson came home to a different reality last November when the mountain opened for the season. The lights had previously been hidden behind the ridgeline. But now, the lights higher up on the mountain cast their glare right into their homes, their living rooms and their quality of life.
Crotched officials, which include parent company Peak Resorts, says it needs a variance because changing its lighting structure would pose a financial hardship. They also say that capping those lights would make for unsafe skiing.
Downhill skiing enthusiasts are rightfully worried that without nighttime skiing, Crotched would not be economically viable. They don’t want to lose what’s quickly become a regional resource.
This issue speaks to the competing dynamics in many of our other ongoing debates: It’s wind energy versus conservation, big box retail versus locally owned businesses and growing taxes versus dwindling school enrollment. In short, it’s about our need to expand and our need to preserve New Hampshire as it is.
In the case of this nighttime skiing issue, we need it all. We need the recreational opportunity and the community ties that Crotched provides. We need the mountain to be a viable business that draws people to ski here and to live here. And we need to preserve our rural character, even under the blaring lights of tense meetings.
Mostly, we need Crotched Mountain and the town of Francestown to come to a fair solution that doesn’t cast aside the concerns of homeowners. There’s an ordinance there for a reason, and Crotched would be wise to find a way to comply with the rules of its neighbors. There is certainly a large cost involved, but for a business looking to make a long-term investment in the region, it seems like a small price to pay.
The question now is can all sides come to an agreement before the start of ski season? We have two months to find out.