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Old Mt. Ascutney Resort



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, October 15, 2015
Brownsville — The former Mount Ascutney Resort will likely become part of the West Windsor Town Forest this December — which could mean a return to organized skiing on its trails as soon as this winter.

A purchase and sales agreement is in place between the Trust for Public Land — a national nonprofit whose mission is to provide public recreation centers in every U.S. community — and current resort owners MFW Associates . Pending the final $54,000 that needs to be raised, TPL would acquire 469 acres — including 29 of the former resort’s ski trails — for $640,000. TPL would then transfer the land to the town with conservation easements in place, increasing to more than 1,500 the number of acres in the West Windsor Town Forest.

The ski area’s former base lodge was heavily damaged in a fire last winter. Another effort is in place for the town to acquire and demolish the structure. If those efforts are realized, the razing of the building wouldn’t take place until next year at the earliest. That isn’t stopping Mount Ascutney Outdoors — a newly formed nonprofit in charge of managing and protecting the recreational and environmental assets within the West Windsor Town Forest — from moving forward with plans to reopen the ski area as a “hike to ski” facility this winter after the transaction is complete.

A celebration introducing a planned 1,000-foot rope tow is tentatively scheduled for the first weekend in February. Fundraising for parts, design and construction of the rope tow will all be performed by Mount Ascutney Outdoors members and volunteers, pending Act 250 permit approval. If approved, it would be set up to ascend young skiers and beginners up the Screaming Eagle trail, a short slope ending near the damaged lodge.

Two other trails would be accessible from the top of the rope tow, Mount Ascutney Outdoors board member Jim Lyall noted.

The lodge would be fenced off — the only warming area provided would be a refreshments tent and fire-pit area overseen by Mount Ascutney Outdoors personnel — and any grooming would be performed by volunteers on snowmobiles.

More long-term plans are in place for a new chair lift, snowmaking, grooming equipment and a tubing area, but many in the Brownsville area are already excited about developments for this winter.

Five full ski seasons have come and gone since the resort closed due to debt and foreclosure, leaving behind tangible recreational and economic vacuums.

Mount Ascutney Outdoors president Art Keating was first drawn to the area by Ascutney’s ski trails in the 1970s.

“It was a really big blow to our town,” said Keating, who doubles as the Albert Bridge Elementary School Board chairman. “I remember that summer (2010). It got to be August and September, and we all started trying to inquire about the rates for the upcoming season. There was no information out there, and we all started to realize what was happening. It was as though the town was left alone, and everything went dark.”

The efforts of Mount Ascutney Outdoors — as well as the West Windsor Conservation Commission, Upper Valley Land Trust and other groups and individuals helping with conservation easement language and logistics — move the area one step closer to what Keating remembers most fondly of the resort’s heyday. Instead of driving to expensive resorts, those is the West Windsor area could spend snowy winter weekends on the slopes with their neighbors.

“The joke in town used to be that you dropped your kids off at 8 in the morning and picked them up when they were 18,” Keating said. “The place would be filled, and we usually ended the weekend with a cookout in the parking lot.”

Keating said his top priority as Mount Ascutney Outdoors president is to see children on a rope tow on Mount Ascutney this winter. While there are no concrete plans for an instructional program, “somebody is going to be teaching kids how to ski,” he said.

Mount Ascutney Outdoors’ executive director is Laura Farrell, a West Windsor resident who doubles as a grant writer, fundraiser and event coordinator at Cochran Ski Area in Richmond, Vt. Cochran’s owners switched to a nonprofit model in 1998 in part to become more accessible and affordable, and Farrell is hoping a similar model at Mount Ascutney will bear similar results.

“What’s most appealing about these small, community ski areas is that families can count on them for recreation and places where their children can learn to ski,” said Farrell, founder of Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports, a nonprofit dedicated to providing sports and recreation opportunities to individuals with disabilities, regardless of ability to pay. “A lot of the resorts are so expensive, they’re really just prohibitive for a lot of families.”

Of the previous resort’s 31 trails, 16 on the lower portion of the mountain will be designated for potential maintenance and grooming. How many of those trails are regularly groomed depends on usage demand and volunteer support, Lyall said.

“It will have a lot to do with volunteer hours,” Lyall said. “It’s going to be something that we keep an eye on and learn as we go.”

As for the upper-level trails that won’t be maintained, Mount Ascutney Outdoors personnel think they’ll appeal to backcountry skiers, a growing demographic seeking ski outings in wooded and primitive areas.

While overhead clearance on the former resort’s upper trails might not be placing skiers directly into the woods, their winding layout and heavily wooded surroundings should draw plenty who desire a more isolated experience.

“Once the chair lift is put in, (backcountry skiers) will be able to take it halfway up, then hike up the rest of the way on skins and have access to some great trails,” Keating said. “We really want to promote and market that aspect because backcountry skiing is the only growing demographic in the ski industry.”

West Windsor Conservation Commission chairman Ted Siegler also is happy with the developments at the former ski area.

“Anytime you add 469 acres to a town forest, it’s a positive thing because it becomes a bigger asset,” Siegler said. “It will allow more people to get on to the mountain and enjoy low-impact recreation, not to mention the conservation and educational benefits.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.

Correction

The Trust for Public Land plans to purchase 469 acres around the former Mount Ascutney Ski Resort, including 29 ski trails, for $640,000. It is part of a $905,000 project by the nonprofit to help return the land to recreational use. An earlier version of this story misstated the purchase price.