Ski area lights get closer look in Francestown

Union Leader Correspondent
September 27. 2013 12:15AM
Nighttime skiing, specifically Midnight Madness, has been part of the Crotched Mountain ski resort since it reopened in 2003. (COURTESY)

FRANCESTOWN — The Zoning Board of Adjustment unanimously voted to hire a lighting consultant Wednesday night to review about 60 new lights added to the Crotched Mountain Ski & Ride last season.

The ski resort is on track to open the first week of December for this winter season, but the debate over the illumination of the night sky continues. The board said it would reconvene Oct. 23 at 7:30 p.m. to review the findings from the independent consultant.

Joe Dupont-Roche, 13, of Hancock attended Wednesday night’s meeting with a group of young skiers, snowboarders and Crotched Mountain instructors.

“If we don’t have the lighting, we don’t have Midnight Madness and if we don’t have Midnight Madness, that’s a problem cause it’s a very important part of our mountain,” Dupont-Roche said. “I just think they shouldn’t be able to take away such a great activity from everyone.”

Crotched Mountain, which is located in both Bennington and Francestown, applied for a variance earlier this month after failing to comply with conditions of a Francestown Planning Board approval of a new lift area at the resort built last season.

Approval was granted on several conditions, including that the new lighting accompanying the expansion be shielded with visors.

Terry said Crotched Mountain follows national standards for ski areas for its lighting. Light reflects off the snow, so even shielding the lights would have little effect on the illumination of the night sky, and would make the slopes dangerous to skiers and snowboarders, Terry said.

Nighttime skiing, specifically Midnight Madness, has been part of the ski resort since it reopened in 2003, Crotched Mountain Ski and Ride general manager Patrick Terry said.

“Midnight Madness is the identity of Crotched Mountain,” he said.

In fact, 45 percent of the resort’s business comes from Midnight Madness, which occurs Friday and Saturday nights from the end of December to the beginning of March, when the resort stays open till 3 a.m. This winter, Midnight Madness is slated to run from Dec. 27 to March 1.

The lighting fixtures in question affect mostly the Francestown side of the resort.

“We went to the Planning Board with alternatives to try, but the members of the Planning Board recommended we go to the zoning board,” Terry said.

Fred Ward of Stoddard said he lives 15 miles from Crotched Mountain Ski & Ride and the illumination of the night ski interferes with his star gazing. He brought two experts with him to Wednesday night’s meeting — Massachusetts cardiologist Mario Motta and International Dark-Sky Association member Kelly Beatty of Chelmsford, Mass.

Motta said light pollution is known to cause numerous health concerns, from breast and prostate cancer, obesity and psychiatric issues.

Beatty criticized the light fixtures saying: “These are not well-designed lights.” But he admitted he was basing his assessment on a brief look at the plans brought in by Crotched Mountain’s lighting expert Vic Reno.

Resident Larry Laber used a heat lamp to demonstrate how a visor could better direct light at the slopes.

After the meeting, Laber who lives on Bennington Road/Route 47, said he moved to Francestown in 1978 to enjoy the dark skies.

“I used to live in Nashua; I don’t want to live there no more,” he said.

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