Sale Ends Ski Era at Ascutney

Friday, May 30, 2014
Brownsville — With the news this week that the owners of the shuttered Ascutney Mountain Resort have sold the last four ski lifts, the likelihood the mountain will ever reopen for downhill skiing has all but vanished.

“In essence, it signals the end of a commercial skiing operation at this location,” West Windsor Selectboard Chairman Glenn Seward said Thursday about the announcement by resort owner, MFW Associates LLC, that the chair lifts were sold and will be removed this summer.

The ski resort, formerly owned by the Plausteiner family that bought it at a foreclosure auction for in 1994, closed in the summer of 2010 because of mounting financial problems. Following a protracted legal battle, MFW, the principal lien holder on the property, assumed ownership as the only bidder at an auction of the resort’s assets last November. The high-speed four-person chair lift had already been sold a few years earlier to the owners of Crotched Mountain in Bennington, N.H., for $1.35 million.

Seward said town officials were not caught off guard by the latest development, which comes on the heels of the town completing the purchase of the sewer system on the mountain earlier this year.

In a release Thursday, Seward said the town has been working on “plan B,” to market other recreational activities and facilities in town, including mountain bike trails, part of which are on the resort property.

“As avid mountain bikers know, West Windsor has a very highly regarded 30-mile recreational trail network extending from the 1,342 acre West Windsor Town Forest onto adjacent Ascutney Mountain Resort property,” Seward said in the news release.

He said the town has had preliminary discussions with the Trust for Public Land to possibly acquire the former ski trails. TPL is a San Francisco-based national nonprofit with an office in Montpelier that helps preserve land for parks and public use.

“Our intent is fueled by the need to protect the recreational trail system and expand and market it for economic development,” Seward said Thursday.

Under the current ownership, Seward said the town has a license to use the trails on the resort land but the license is revocable.

Justin Lillie, a mountain biker from Rockingham, had just ridden two hours on the trails Thursday. As he finished putting his bike in the back of his pickup, Lillie said the land has a lot of potential for public recreation.

“When I mountain bike I like to come here,” Lillie said. “These trails are very well designed and well built. They are not excessively steep.”

Lillie said with the housing on the mountain and a fitness center, which is owned by Orange Lake, owners of the hotel at the mountain, he envision a change in recreation, not an end.

“It could morph into a different type of recreational community,” Lillie said. “It is a great mountain for running, hiking and mountain biking.”

Seward said Dan Purjes of MFW worked hard to find a buyer to reopen the skiing.

“He expressed to me that reluctantly, very reluctantly, his desire to liquidate the property,” Seward said. “He put considerable effort into finding a qualified ski operator.”

Seward said he was invited to participate in some of those discussions.

“I knew what was happening,” Seward said. “But it was in such a state of disrepair that the amount of money it would take to reopen it just doesn’t work. There was so much deferred maintenance.”

The closing of the resort has affected the value of homes and condominiums on the mountain, which are not part of the resort property. Seward said last year’s reappraisal by the town led to a “significant decrease (in values.)”

“With the removal of the lifts, it could deteriorate further.”

Amy Yates, owner of the Brownsville General Store, said she held out hope for a couple of years that the ski area would reopen.

“I was always optimistic until this past year. It feels like there is no hope any more,” Yates said. “It make me sad. I grew up learning to ski on the mountain so it is especially hard for me to see.”

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