In Vermont, a town Saved a mountain and a mountain Saved a town

Jim Lyall dashed up Mount Ascutney, eager to point out the view. We were preparing for a ski area south of Vermont, but the chair ladder was out of service. At the top of the mountain, we come to an abandoned ski patrol cabin and lift station. A cold wind whipped through the desolate bamboo groves. It has a spooky, post-apocalyptic feel.

Mr. Lyall motioned me up a ramp to raise an old chair. He swept his ski pole across the panorama and pointed to the snow-capped peaks of Okemo and Killington, ski resorts within a 30-mile radius. The White Mountains of New Hampshire feel close enough to touch.

“There have been many times where I have stood here and watched the snowstorms hit those ski areas and just ignore Ascutney. We couldn’t win,” said Lyall, a tropical skier.

During its heyday, the Ascutney ski resort boasted 1,800 feet of vertical skiing on more than 50 trails, and that includes high-speed four-seat forklifts, three triple forklifts, and double forklifts. But when it closed in 2010 because of little snow and mismanagement (the twin killers of small ski resorts), it threatened the nearby community of West Windsor, Vt., population 1,099 .

“Real estate values ​​plummeted, mountain condos more than halved and taxes went up,” recalls Glenn Seward, who worked at the resort for 18 years and served as the mountain’s chief executive. The town’s general store, a gathering place for the community, was also demolished and closed.

“We were desperate,” said Mr Seward, who at the time was chairman of the West Windsor Selectboard, a Vermont town equivalent to a city council.

That desperation sent the property-seeking community up the mountain, becoming a model for how a small ski area and its community can thrive in an age of climate change. Working with the state of Vermont as well as the nonprofit Trust for Public Land, the town purchased the failed ski resort in 2015. But instead of allowing a private company to run the mountain, contracted the operation. active, it is the local residents who will chart the sustainable, volunteer-directed path for the ski area.

Seven years later, Mount Ascutney and West Windsor are magnets for families and outdoor enthusiasts. Between 2010 and 2020, the town’s population has grown by more than 20%, and the median single-family home sale price has more than doubled, to $329,750. A bustling new department store featuring local produce has opened in the village of Brownsville, revitalizing the heart of the West Windsor community. The town and mountain attract everyone year-round, from endurance runners and mountain bikers in the warm months to snowboarders in the winter.

At the heart of this renaissance is Ascutney Out Outdoor, a non-profit organization with more than 100 volunteers currently running mountain recreation. Instead of high-speed ice and snowmaking, skiers take a zip line or T-bar to ski the vertical 435 feet, found on 10 groomed natural snow trails. There is also an elevator for the snow tube. Elevator tickets cost $20 or $100 for a season pass. The lifts operate on Saturdays and Sundays when there is enough snow, and it takes about 40 volunteers to staff during a busy weekend.

The 1,300-foot vertical portion of the mountain, maintained by the Ascutney Trails Association, is reserved for remote area skiers who can climb and ski for free – although donations are greatly appreciated. . Thursday night ski races take place under the lights, and an after-school program takes the kids up the mountain every afternoon. The mountain is also home to the famous 45 miles mountain bike trails, many hiking trailss and Mt. Ascutney State Park. This is one of the top hovering places in New England.

Mr. Seward, who is now chief executive officer of Ascutney Outdoors, said: “When it’s snowing, we ski, and when it’s not, we do other things. “It’s a pretty easy model to maintain.”

Mount Ascutney (3,144 feet), Vermont’s most famous volcano, has been attracting skiers for decades. Skiing began in Ascutney in the winter of 1935-36 on the 5,400-foot Ascutney Mountain Trail opened by the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Windsor Outing Club. The first skiers climbed the mountain on their own strength, like today’s remote skiers. Ascutney Mountain Ski Area opened in 1946 with a rope towline. In a forecast of impending struggles, the ski area has endured some bad winters and went bankrupt four years after opening.

New owners come and go periodically, and Ascutney reinvents itself as a destination resort, attracting tourists and second-home owners from New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts. It is described in a New York Times article in 2005 is “less fashionable than some of its competitors” with a “small and functional” base motel. Local skiers continue to be its loyal mainstay.

The Ascutney Resort has been ravaged by erratic snowfall for years. During the 1980s, a new ownership group, Summit Ventures, poured $55 million into elevators, apartments, and snow production. A hotel was built at the foot of the mountain (now Holiday Inn Club Vacations). By 1991, the ski area was forced to liquidate. The ski resort closed for the last time in 2010 and sold out of the lifts. It was a huge blow to the community.

“We have lost our identity as a ski town,” said Mr. Seward, who grew up in the community and married his wife, Shelley, in the mountains.

Jim Lyall added: “You’ve seen everyone at the school, the general store, the post office and the ski area. We risk losing all four of us and becoming a bedroom-only community.”

Climate change poses an existential threat to ski resorts in New England, which currently has 89 in six states. ONE Research in 2019 shows that in the northeastern states beyond Vermont, at least half of all ski resorts will close by the mid-2050s if high greenhouse gas emissions continue. A study published in 2021 in the journal Climate shows that New England is warming significantly faster than the rest of the planet. From 1900 to 2020, winter temperatures in Vermont increased by 5.26 degrees Fahrenheit.

That means our winter precipitation falls as rain rather than snow, with less accumulation on the ground, said Elizabeth Burakowski, research assistant professor at the Institute for Earth and Ocean Studies. and there is more melting in the middle of winter”. , and Space at the University of New Hampshire.

New England is full of ghosts of abandoned ski resorts: Theo New England Lost Ski Area ProjectMore than 600 ski resorts have closed in the area.

Ski industry leaders warn that the survival of ski resorts depends on political action. “It is critically important that business leaders in the outdoor and ski industries get together,” said Adrienne Saia Isaac, director of marketing and communications for the National Association of Ski Areas. strong for bipartisan climate action at the federal and state levels.

West Windsor was determined to re-imagine a future that does not rely on the ambiguity of winter. In 2014, West Windsor Selectboard asked the Trust for Public Land to help it purchase and preserve 469 acres of former ski area for use in downhill skiing, mountain biking and other activities. other recreational activities by human power. The ski area will be added to the existing town forest and protected by a 1,581-acre reserve that protects the land from development. A special town meeting was held in October 2014, asked the voters of West Windsor to approve the town’s $105,000 spend on the $640,000 purchase of the old ski area, part of the $905,000 project price to return the land for recreation purposes. mind. The purchase was approved by a three-to-one ratio.

In 2015, a group of townspeople gathered at Jim Lyall’s home to start Ascutney Outdoors. A new zip line was installed that same year, followed by an elevator in 2017 and a T-bar in 2020. The community raised funds to build the Ascutney Outdoor Center, a acreage lodge. 3,000 square feet, at the foot of the mountain.

Brownsville Butcher and Pantry minutes from Ascutney Outdoors and their fates are inextricably linked.

Peter Varkonyi and Lauren Stevens opened their store in November 2018 and on a recent weekday happily welcomed a steady stream of regular customers. This is not your typical general store. It features a wall of Vermont craft beer and a butcher carving a side of pork that hangs on a meat hook in front of the fridge consisting of Vermont Wagyu beef, fresh goat and all the sushi ingredients. At the nearby cafe, customers can choose from homemade bagels and home-made hot pasta to a vegetarian smoked radish Reuben and three types of burgers.

In 2018, a community group, Friends of the Brownsville General Store, bought the foreclosed building from the bank for $95,000 and invested $250,000 to renovate it. The consortium then leased the building to Mr. Varkonyi and Ms. Stevens for $1 a year, with an option the couple could purchase at any time for the cost. Chris Nesbitt, an organizer of the Friends group, urged his neighbors to “think of this as a common good. You are investing in the community. ”

Buying local “is the basis of what we do every day,” says Ms. Stevens, proudly divvying up $35,000 to buy organic products from Edgewater Farm in Plainfield, NH, and $30,000 in lamb, goat, and pork from Yates Ranch right up the road. By 2021, she asserts, “our small business has put $500,000 back into local businesses.” In December, the couple acquired the store from Friends.

A longtime community resident and teacher at the local elementary school, Amanda Yates, is sitting with her young son enjoying a burger dinner at the general store. Miss Yates gestured to the bustling cafe and shop. “I credit the store and Ascutney Outdoors for bringing the town back,” she said. “They brought in places where you could meet, get good food, where you could meet people around town again.

“They really brought back that community hub.”

David Goodman is the author of “Best suburban skiing in the Northeast” (AMC Books) and host of “The Vermont Conversation”, a radio show and podcast about public affairs. In Vermont, a town Saved a mountain and a mountain Saved a town

Fry Electronics Team

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