Visitors riding Cannon Mountain’s iconic aerial tramway will experience a more modern ride to the summit after a tram replacement project.
‘You don’t mess with tradition’: Boston.com readers say don’t replace New Hampshire’s iconic tram with a gondola
The state-owned lift at Franconia Notch State Park needs repair within the next five years and $18 million was approved by the state legislature for the project, according to Gregory Keeler, interim general manager for Cannon Mountain.
The cost of replacing the system was originally estimated at about $25 million, Keeler said, before it was determined that parts of the current tram system can be reused thanks to a rigorous maintenance system on the mountain.
“The towers, the receiver buildings, the superstructure, the concrete bases, those are all things that would have tacked on a bunch of money if they were not in adequate condition,” he said.
Once the project is complete, the tramway experience won’t change, Keeler said, except that the new cars “will look different because they will be a little more modern looking.”
The original tram began operating at the site in 1938, followed by the current tram in 1980. Visitors are treated to an eight-minute scenic ride to Cannon’s 4,080-foot summit in two enclosed red and yellow cable cars known as Ketchup and Mustard. Each tram car can carry 80 people, and on a clear day, guests can see New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, New York, and Canada.
The tram, the first passenger aerial tramway in North America, brings millions of dollars of tourism spending to the state, Keeler said.
“The thing about the tram is, it’s iconic,” Keeler said. “It’s iconic to New Hampshire. It’s iconic to the White Mountains. There isn’t anything else like it in the state.”
Earlier this year, Gov. Chris Sununu suggested replacing the tram with a gondola to cut costs, among other reasons, and the idea was met with disagreement by officials and residents.
During a February poll, Boston.com readers voted to keep the tramway over replacing it with a gondola, writing: “You don’t mess with tradition.” Of the 401 readers who responded to the poll, 69% said they wanted a tram to remain at the site.
Fans of the tramway can rest assured that the Ketchup and Mustard tradition will also continue, Keeler said.
“Right now there are no plans to move away from a red car and a yellow car,” he said. “We did an unfortunate experiment at some point a number of years ago when we had the idea to just repaint them and make them both red because Cannon’s brand color is red. And we swiftly heard from several hundred schoolchildren in the local region.”
Those planning future visits should know that the tram will close during construction, Keeler said. But there is a process that needs to happen before that.
The mountain has been preparing a bid package, and the project will be advertised at the end of October, Keeler said. It’s expected that the bid process will be complete in late spring of 2024, he said, and, after that, the company selected will reinspect the system and formulate a plan.
Keeler said the tramway will run this winter season and possibly next.
“We expect to be able to run the tram for summer  and possibly for winter [2024-2025], if the construction process hasn’t started yet,” Keeler said. “It would depend on whatever the winning bidder gives us for a timeline. We’re hoping [the closure] won’t go beyond one summer and one winter, but that’s to be determined.”
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