Les Otten’s Last Resort

January 15, 2017 - fall Denim

Once on a time, Les Otten saved Fenway Park. Now a former Red Sox co-owner is confronting an even steeper challenge: spending some-more than $150 million to spin a derelict ski review into a largest shelter for a rich New England has ever seen.

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The exploding Balsams ski review in New Hampshire’s North Country is Les Otten’s latest project. / Photograph by Greta Rybus

Like many dreamers, Les Otten has a bent to see event where others see 0 nonetheless ruin. The initial time we met him, this past fall, we were in northern New Hampshire on a ebbing drift of a Balsams Resort, that Otten intends to resurrect. Tall and athletic, with a conduct of white hair, a 67-year-old was wearing a same thing he wears roughly each day: head-to-toe denim and sneakers. Trailed by his golden retriever, he talked fast, in a approach that suggested he was meditative out loud. In a initial few minutes, he introduced both himself and his dog, Sophie, twice.

From a time it opened, in 1866, until it went swell up, in 2011, a Balsams was one of New England’s grandest hotels, sketch aristocrats and celebrities from New York, Boston, and even Europe. Guests arrived by stagecoach during initial and, later, by motorcar to shun city wickedness and suffer a beneficial effects of soaring air. Babe Ruth and Frank Sinatra were among a many visitors. During Prohibition, a Balsams’ golf hall doubled as a bordello and a gambling den. On this day, though, a exploding skill felt some-more like a vital time capsule—and looked like a site of a explosve blast.

Although tools of a soaring hotel seemed to be in plain shape, a back of a building was destroyed. There was a gaping hole in a roof, a clapboard walls were charred and rotting, and a mixed of timber bits and rusted steel lonesome a ground. Outside was a football field–size hole filled with rubble. It seemed transparent to me we were looking during a rabble heap. Otten, however, stood with his hands on his hips and surveyed a chaos. When it comes to soaring resorts, he pronounced, this “may be a last, best event in a United States.”

Otten’s ambitions are not small. In further to restoring a Balsams to a former glory, he also intends to build—right subsequent to it—a behemoth of a ski soaring that could obscure Vermont’s Killington as a largest in a East. Plans also call for restoring a chronological golf march designed by a mythological Donald Ross. The Balsams now sits on 11,000 acres of mostly inexperienced land, including 3 lakes and 60 miles of trails. When—if—it’s completed, a new Balsams will also have a sauna with outside prohibited baths, a immeasurable marketplace offered internal goods, a culinary institute, a refurbished antique film theater, and a complicated reconstruction of a Balsams’ famed white-glove dining service. It’s estimated a plan will cost during slightest $159 million, entrance mostly from private investors and banks. Otten, for his part, is betting during slightest $5 million of his possess income on a development. The state of New Hampshire is all in as well, staid to pledge a $28 million loan to jump-start a project. All of this comes, of course, during a time when a East Coast ski courtesy is struggling to tarry in a face of final winter’s insignificant layer and, in a prolonged run, a graying of a baby boomers.

As an aging hermit who lives in a lakeside record cabin of his possess pattern in a small Maine city many people have never listened of, Otten seems like an doubtful claimant to take on one of a many desirous mercantile growth projects in New England. He wears possibly jeans or sleet pants scarcely 365 days a year. He’s a doting father of 3 and is given to nattering on, during length, to Sophie. Yet there is another side to Otten that creates him distant some-more competent to limit this latest challenge.

Otten done his name decades ago as a owner and CEO of American Skiing Company, a ski review sovereignty once value $600 million and enclosed Killington, Maine’s Sunday River, and Canyons in Park City, Utah. Throughout his 40-plus-year career, Otten warranted a repute as a brash, hard-charging personality who fearlessly battled his competitors in a press and done himself a face of his brand, putting his design on his company’s brochures. Otten also worked with billionaire John Henry to buy a Red Sox, saving Fenway Park from dispersion during a time when many people, including then-Mayor Tom Menino, believed it had outlived a usefulness. Not all of his ventures, though, have finished in success.

Following his arise in a ski industry, Otten crashed. He grew American Skiing too quickly, mislaid battles opposite inlet (winters continued to get warmer) and a banks (they stopped lending him money), and had to renounce from a association he’d created. American Skiing’s batch cost eventually plummeted from $18 a share to zero.

Now, with a Balsams, Otten has his work cut out for him. He’s peaceful to assume a risk again since he believes a skill can be a Platonic ideal of a soaring retreat. Even if he gets it bound up, though, he’ll still need to remonstrate people to come—not an easy sell deliberation a Balsams is in a northern New Hampshire wilderness, in one of a many economically vexed tools of a state. In what might be his wildest play yet, Otten is out to see either he can reconstitute his happening and assistance revitalise a region’s ski industry, or if he’s unfailing for another wipeout.


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Les Otten is anticipating to move a hold of oppulance to a New Hampshire wilderness. / Photograph by Greta Rybus

It wasn’t prolonged after earning a grade in business administration from Ithaca College in 1971 that Otten motionless to strike a slopes. He assimilated Killington’s government training module after graduation, and within dual years—at a age of 23—began using a day-to-day operations during Sunday River, owned by Killington’s primogenitor company, a Sherburne Corporation. Some of his favorite stories are from a early, hardscrabble days when he and his small group did all from pouring petrify floors to climbing a soaring to spin on snowmaking machines by hand.

At a time, Sunday River was a neglected small hermit to Maine’s other circuitously ski mountain, Sugarloaf, and perceived small courtesy or financial backing. Otten, though, saw a potential. Although a soaring was tiny, other peaks developed for growth and enlargement surrounded it. He’d run a soaring on a shoestring for several years, nonetheless now wanted full control. Armed with a large loan, Otten bought Sunday River in 1980 and set out to comprehend his expanded vision.

Risk-taking was in Otten’s blood. His father, Albert Otten, was innate in 1886 (he was 63 when Les was born), and had been a self-made Jewish steel lord in Germany. Jailed and intimidated by a Nazis in a 1930s, he fled—leaving roughly all of his happening behind. After a tour by Switzerland, Holland, Mexico, and Canada, he staid down in New Jersey and started all over again with a new steel business. While he never satisfied a same resources and status he’d had in Germany, Albert was an definite success in his adopted homeland. Otten still speaks of his father, who died in 1985, with awe. “I’m one of those kids,” he says, “who will always live in a shade of my father’s accomplishments.”

Otten also hereditary his father’s talent for building a business from a belligerent up. When Otten started using Sunday River in a 1970s, it was a molehill with a singular chairlift and 3 measly T-bars. But he reinvested increase aggressively, built new chairlifts scarcely each season, and carried out a selling shell that helped expostulate income and stretch him from his competitors. Among his always-provocative broadside stunts, Otten and his group mocked a sleet conditions and transport times of other resorts, dumped truckloads of sleet on Boston Common to remind city dwellers to go skiing, and, during slightest once, hired a craft pulling a Sunday River ad to fly over Killington. At a same time, he built affordable condos to pull additional skiers to a mountain.

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