Published on October 29th, 2012 | by Paul McMorris
Alternative Energy, Foreign Investments, and More Snowmaking | What’s New and Improved at Vermont’s Ski and Ride Areas
Vermont’s Alpine ski areas have been working overtime this summer stringing up four new lifts, building two new lodges, cutting new glades and trails. But really, what’s the true Alpine ski experience about without a brand new sushi takeout bar? Here’s what’s waiting for you this season.
ASCUTNEY MOUNTAIN RESORT
Wish we had better news to report but we don’t. An Ascutney Mountain Resort Liquidation Trust has been formed and has sold the mountain’s detachable quad chairlift to Crotched Mountain. The lodges are boarded up and the trails are posted against trespassers, hikers, and skiers alike. Take heart though, New England history has proven that many a mothballed ski area has been resurrected by individuals or co-op groups with a dream, a management team, and of course, a healthy business checking account. Perhaps next season?
As the Alpine operations gear up for another season, the big push here is on the Nordic side. Last March, the owner of the ski area and adjacent lands agreed to sell 1,161 acres of prime backcountry and Nordic skiing terrain to the Vermont Land Trust, provided it can raise funds by mid-March 2013. In addition to many modest donations by individuals, an anonymous donor has upped the ante by $100,000, and yet another donor has agreed to match all donations, dollar-for-dollar. If the fundraising effort is successful, the Vermont Land Trust and the Friends of Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry hope to add the acquired land to the Mount Mansfield State Forest. For info on how to donate, visit vlt.org.
Another $200,000 dropped on snowmaking upgrades and $135,000 on base lodge remodeling will please many fans of “Sun Mountain.” More than 3,000 feet of snowmaking pipes have been replaced, and 60 new HKD-brand tower guns installed to provide better coverage when nature doesn’t cooperate. Down in the base lodge, look for a more efficient cafeteria layout, and new walls and lighting.
There are big changes in the wind spinning the turbine at the summit here. The mountain was sold this year to a consortium headed by Jay Peak’s Bill Stenger and partner Ari Quiros. With the recent extension of the federal EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program—a mechanism for foreign investors to attain permanent U.S. legal residency—Burke is expected to receive approximately $108 million for improvements. For this season, the mountain is adding 140 new snow guns to increase snowmaking capacity by an estimated 50 percent. Within the next three years, watch for four new mountain lodges and base area real estate expansion.
COCHRAN’S SKI AREA
Cochran’s is still keeping it real: barebones, affordable family skiing and riding. Their Race Trail has more snowmaking coverage and has been widened top to bottom to allow more space for race training and school groups.
This place is back from the dead with a vengeance. With a dedicated commitment from owner Jim Barnes and EB-5 dollars, this venerable family-friendly mountain, which operated on a limited basis last season, will be sporting a new fixed-grip quad that transports guests of the nearby Hermitage Inn to the ski trails. The foundation for a new luxurious base lodge, complete with wellness center and lap pool, has been poured. Completion is expected next year. For this year, four lifts will be spinning and 10 new fan guns have been added to the snowmaking arsenal. Although technically a pricey private club—a 25 grand initiation fee with $4,900 annual dues—you can ski and ride here by booking a ski/stay package through the Hermitage. Future plans include a chondola lift, hotel, and of course, a water park.
As owner Bill Stenger travels to South Asia this fall to drum up more investment dollars, the latest $30 million in resort improvements come on line. Look for two new lifts, a fixed-grip quad running out of the State Side base area that will provide easier access to the Tram side, and a moving carpet for the learning area. To go along with the beginners’ carpet is a 8,500-foot Mountain Learning Center with rentals, a café, and day care. Up on the summit, the tram’s summit station, Sky Haus, has been recreated as a 120-seat restaurant.
KILLINGTON AND PICO
This year, the resort’s major improvement focus has been on building the new Peak lodge. The foundation and new sewer lines are in place with major construction resuming next spring. The Beast of the East will power its K-1 Express Gondola this season with “cow power,” electricity generated from manure from Vermont dairy farms. As always, the powerful snowmaking system will be tweaked and the trails fine-tuned in anticipation of a November opening day. In future years, watch for replacement of the Snowdon Quad, a new lift on South Ridge, and the permitting to fall into place for the base village project.
Volunteer corps were busy this fall sprucing up the base lodge and pruning trails. A snowmaking-system check was successfully conducted on Sept. 16. This season, there’s a new year-round ropes course in the trees with zip-lines for family fun.
MAD RIVER GLEN
As a successful cooperatively owned skiers-only area, current management doesn’t want to mess with a good product. No new water park this year, only regular trail and lift maintenance, thank you. Ski history lives here.
MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE SNOW BOWL
The most prestigious, competitive ski racing event in the state, the 2013 NCAA Skiing Championships will be staged here on March 6 to 8, with the cross-country events at the nearby Carroll and Jane Rikert Nordic Center on March 7 to 9. You know both venues will be pulling out all the stops to insure world-class skiing and riding surfaces this season.
For aspiring riders and those who wish to improve their snowboarding skills, the mountain has opened an Official Burton Learn to Ride Center. The center will feature the latest designs in learning equipment and serve students as young as three. Need some raw fish on your next lift ride up the mountain? Mount Snow has you covered with their new Go Fish Sushi takeout counter in the main base lodge.
Three new glades, two grooming machines, 42 tower guns, and a Waffle Cabin round out the news here. The new guns will be cranking out snow in the main base area and along the Arrow and World Cup trails. Look for the entrance to the new glades off of the Upper Mountain Road and between Coleman Brook and Exhibition. Crave a waffle? Head to the new cabin at Jackson Gore base.
QUECHEE LAKES SKI AREA
This southeastern-exposed ski area bounced back from the ravages of Irene with a renewed commitment to snowmaking. Although a private club, anyone can purchase a lift ticket with no blackout dates. The chairlift and T-bar spin Friday afternoons, weekends, and holiday weeks.
A cool million was invested in 150 new tower guns and an electric air compressor to insure better skiing and riding surfaces. The new guns will be spread throughout the resort’s three peaks. With more than 20 natural features, the new terrain park, located in the Knight’s Revenge Glade, should be a hit this season. To offset all the kilowatts sucked up by the pizza ovens in the Village Lodge, 35 solar tracker units have been installed.
Seven miles of new snowmaking pipeline lead the battle against poor natural snowfall seasons here. Add to that 325 new HKD tower guns, 150 ground guns, and 16 Super Pole Cat fans, and one can see this place is taking their snowmaking seriously. All tallied, their investment is an impressive $4.7 million in blowing snow on the hill.
Sunbeam, a blue square on the Sunbrook side, is the latest addition to the trail network here. To meet the increased demands of freeskiers and riders, the Sunriser Supertrail and Big Ben terrain parks in the Sunbowl will be expanded this season along with a new boardercross course. The new course will be the setting for training camps coached by Olympic medalists.
The push here this season is on real estate development in the Lincoln Peak base area. The mountain’s powers-that-be have visions of building a “vibrant, slopeside community” with 15 new townhomes and condominiums in three separate buildings slated for the Rice Brook Residences project, starting around $500,000.
The trails are mowed, the lifts greased, and a new mountain manager is in place in anticipation of the season.