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THE BALSAMS RESORT - Legacy to Legendary

The Balsams Resort, Dixville Notch, New Hampshire

As you know, I’m a NH Realtor. And as you’d probably guess, I love to talk Real Estate. But, not just talk Real Estate. I love to explore it too. New areas. New properties. From waterfront homes to rail cars. From treehouses to mobile homes. If something unique hits the market, chances are I know about it and have plans to see it.

So, when I saw an ad for The Balsams Resort, I thought, ”Wow. That’s something.”

If you’re unfamiliar with The Balsams, just take a good look. Nestled in the heart of Dixville Notch with an “enchanting panorama of wooded mountains…shimmering lakes and roaring waterfalls,” The Balsams sits “in the very heart of remoteness.” And in this heart of remoteness, The Balsam stands—a castle jutting up from the valley floor.

The Balsams, with the impressive mountains looming behind and Lake Gloriette in the foreground

I thought, “Well, I’ve never toured a castle before.” I immediately added it to my bucket list and simultaneously crossed it right off, because a few emails later, we were scheduled for the next tour.



While the Balsams has fallen into disrepair over the years and has been closed for business since 2011, it once earned its reputation as New England’s finest resort.

Founded in 1866 as the Dix House, The Balsams was originally a small summer inn for weary Victorian travelers in the White Mountains. By the time the Hale House was added in 1895, executives and their families arrived by railroad and were so enchanted by the resort, they would stay for months at a time. Over the course of a century, and with the construction of the Hampshire House in 1916, The Balsams had grown to an impressive 400 room grand resort.

Aerial view of The Balsams Resort, looking into Dixville Notch

And The Balsams truly was a resort. Back in the day, room service didn’t exist. Every meal was eaten in the dining room, in one’s best clothes. Waiters wore white gloves and were committed to offering service well beyond guests’ expectations. There were staff who were just concerned with the silver, keeping it clean and looking its best. There were others that were in charge of linens, deciding whether or not they were worth mending. And those exemplary servants delivered award winning cuisine--fit for connoisseurs and picky eaters alike. They harvested their food right from the property and were Farm to Table before it was cool.

Dixville Notch is famous for it's voting traditions. The town is the first to vote during Presidential Elections, and polls open at midnight. Voters would gather in The Balsam's ballroom to vote, but once the resort was closed, the polls moved to the resort's Hale House, shown above

When guests weren’t being wined and dined, they could hike about the 11,000 acre property, tour the lakes, strap on some skis and hit the slopes, or play a round of golf.



The Balsams closed its doors in 2011.

Enter Les Otten.

If you’ve never heard of Les Otten, let me sum up his resume for you. At one time or another, he has owned: Sunday River, Killington, Mount Snow, Haystack, Waterville Valley, Sugarloaf, Cranmore, and Pico Peak. Not too shabby, right? Now, he has his sights set on The Balsams with plans to turn it into a four-seasons destination.

The Balsams Proposed Ski Expansion with 2,200 skiable acres and 2,000 feet of vertical drop

At the end of the day, Les Otten is a skier. The golf course and Country Club will be returned to their former glory. Hiking and snowmobiling trails will be maintained, but the true focus will be alpine skiing. With a base camp at 2,350 feet, The Balsams is located in a true alpine climate zone, and skiers and riders can expect more dependable snow and a longer winter season. It’s location also allows access to the largest snowmaking water source in the East, assuring best-in-class quality snow.

With Les, it’s go big or go home, and he’s going big. When it’s all said and done, The Balsams will have 2,200 acres of skiing—twice that of its closest Eastern competitor—leaving everyone else in the dust.

The Balsams Skiable Acres Expansion, with plans to surpass all Eastern Competitors

When guests are not out skiing, riding the gondola, or enjoying the high-mountain lodges, they can take advantage of all the amenities The Balsams has to offer.

The whole design of The Balsams revolves around parking the car and throwing away the keys. Guests won’t need to drive to anything. Right on the property, they will have access to:

· Largest and most advanced ski resort on the East Coast

· Legendary Donald Ross 18-hole Golf Course

· Mountain Lakes for boating, swimming, fishing

· Miles of maintained trails for biking, running, hiking, and designated recreational vehicles

· Balsam Baths Spa, utilizing the mountains’ natural alpine streams and waterfalls

· Fitness Center with Yoga and Pilates

· Aerial Adventure Park

· Multitude of dining options including fine dining, bars, pubs, and outdoor markets

· Performing Arts Center and Festivals

· Adjacency to the US/Canadian 1,000 mile snowmobile “Superhighway”

Views of The Balsams Panorama Golf Course, a Donald Ross signature design. Vermont's peaks can be seen to the left and Canada can be seen dead ahead

I could go on, but I think you get the point. It’ll be happening.



Now, that all sounds great, but where are we now? What’s the current state of The Balsams?

That’s what I was set to find out.

We left home and headed North. And further North. And further North still. We entered the beautiful and picturesque, middle-of-nowhere place known as Dixville Notch. And then we saw her, rising up from the Valley Floor like a fortress—protecting the town’s 12 residents. And then we really saw her.

Current view of the back of the resort with buildings caving in

She was rough. Parts of the older sections were collapsing and were already slated for tear down. It was clear that Mother Nature was trying to reclaim what was rightfully hers, but The Balsams did stand tall—putting up a fight. As we drove around with our guides, it was easy to see that this resort was once splendid. With its castle-like appearance surrounded by outcroppings and mountains with huge vertical drops, alpine lakes and waterfalls, stationed in the middle of nowhere, The Balsams is really in its own world. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It feels like you’ve gone back in time to a much simpler era, when you were able to unplug from the hustle bustle, turn off the TV, put down the phones, and just enjoy the simple things.

Current view of the front of the resort with the Dix and Hampshire Houses standing strong

Speaking as an adrenaline junkie, this is a place where I could take up knitting and be perfectly content.

Before we were swept up to the Model Rooms, we were asked to sign waivers which released The Balsams from any liability. They didn’t issue us hard hats, but I wouldn’t have been too surprised. To my delight, they lead us into The Balsams towers. We went up and up and up the stairs, past the peeling paint, ripped wallpaper, and through locked doors. They started up a generator so we wouldn’t have to tour in the dark. As we reached the Model Rooms, padlocks were released and the doors swung open. And boy, was I floored.

Inside the Model Rooms at The Balsams, looking out over Lake Gloriette

As I stepped over the threshold from the old and decrepit to the new and pristine, I was truly amazed. They did a phenomenal job. With picture windows highlighting the views, nostalgic wallpaper, original built-ins, and The Balsams logo embossed into the headboards, I was ready to jump on the bed and stay awhile. The bathrooms were lined with carrara marble. The Balsams china set was placed just so. A crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling, because who doesn’t need a little sparkle in their life.

Inside the Model Rooms at The Balsams, looking out over Lake Gloriette

For a moment, I was in heaven, and thought, “where do I sign?”

The sitting room inside The Balsams' Model Rooms


One of the bathrooms inside The Balsams' Model Rooms

At this point, The Balsams is still raising money to fund its massive renovation and expansion. Private individuals can choose to become a part of this renovation and reserve their ownership in The Balsams. The resort is also seeking loans from the state, with the hope that the state will back their venture as they revive a declining area, create new jobs for the community, and restore a piece of history that is still so loved by many.

Will The Balsams be returned to its former glory (and more)? The answer to that is still up in the air. With lots and lots of money left to raise, The Balsams renovation is certainly a long-term endeavor. But, by the look of those Model Rooms, I can tell you, if it does turn to fruition, it will be resplendent.

Either way, I feel honored that even for the briefest moment in time, I was a part of The Balsams history, and I hope to one day see that beautiful resort flourish once again.

The view of Lake Gloriette and Dixville Notch from The Balsams' Model Room balcony

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