Mount Eustis rises from under Interstate 93 on the outskirts of Littleton, New Hampshire's almost comically picturesque downtown. Though the hill -- it is certainly more hill than mountain -- used to be derided as "Mount Useless" by local kids unimpressed by the grade of its one slope, it was a town fixture from the 1930s until the rope tow stopped roughly thirty years ago.
This was where New Hampshire kids skied when New Hampshire kids still skied so it naturally became a grassy metaphor for the bitter ends of local traditions as soon as the hut shut down.
Today, Mount Eustis is accessible for use by bikers and hikers, but the hike up the hill is simply too long to expect skiers to make the trudge more than once. Once, honestly, is probably a stretch. Still, the Mount has its appeals. The view from the top is lovely when the morning mists clear and ground is covered in a patina of moss and weeds.
Now a group of locals is trying to bring the slope back to life as a way to help local kids re-engage with New Hampshire's alpine tradition without having to pay the high price for lift passes at nearby mountains.
"I've been wandering over there forever, biking, sledding, snowshoeing, heading over there after work with flashlights and going sledding," says Dave Harkness, who is spearheading the effort and runs a bike store in the middle of town. "The local ski program only gets kids on a slope for six Wednesdays, which makes buying all that equipment a bit expensive if you're a parent, so it makes sense to use what we have naturally."
Harkness' argument is bolstered somewhat by the amount of material support the project has received: Home Depot has donated an $8,000 hut that is currently sitting in the store's parking lot and Bretton Woods has volunteered to help rebuild the skiing facilities. The plan now is to do more than replicate the original. Harkness envisions an entire new trail, which would run through grounds currently choked by weeds and thorns. "I think the mountains are all behind it because they realize their feeder program isn't working," says Harkness, whose cavernous store serves as tribute to the area's appeal for the outdoorsy.
People before Harkness have also seen the potential of this empty place. Herb Lahout, a local property developer and one of the descendants of Joe Lahout, who helped build his father's dry goods store on Main Street into America's first alpine ski shop in the 1940s, tried once before, but met resistance.
"I thought it would be nice but, for whatever reason, the idea was shot down at the town meeting level," says Lahout, who is helping Harkness. "Now it feels like we're rolling up our yankee shirtsleeves and getting this done."
Lahout and Harkness hope to see the hill open for business -- whether or not locals will have to pay remains unclear -- next year and, specifically, hope that they'll see young people hitting the slopes.
"It is better than having them smoke pot or get up to all the other stuff that is out there," says Lahout. "This is like having a baseball field in your town and no one bothers to make the infield. It just doesn't make any sense."