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Suicide Six ski area looks to make bucks off Broncos with off-road driving course

  • Snow recedes on Friday, April 2, 2021, at the Suicide Six ski area. An off-road driving school has been proposed for the ski hill in South Pomfret, Vt. ( Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 4/2/2021 11:04:59 PM
Modified: 4/2/2021 11:05:18 PM

SOUTH POMFRET — A herd of Broncos soon could be roaming the hills of Suicide Six, if a proposal by the ski resort’s owner is approved by state regulators and the town’s zoning board.

The Woodstock Inn and Resort has submitted an application for approval to lease the 189-acre Suicide Six ski area along Stage Road in South Pomfret to an operator of a driving school that will train customers in how to handle new Ford Bronco and Bronco Sport SUVs on off-road terrain. An Act 250 hearing with Vermont’s Natural Resources Board is scheduled via virtual meeting on April 14 at 9 a.m.

Dubbed “Bronco Off-Roadeo,” the training course for customers of Ford Broncos “is intended to bring much-needed revenue and economic activity to the Suicide Six Ski Area during non ski-season months,” the Woodstock Inn said in its Act 250 application. The approximately 2-mile loop around the mountain would use existing ski trails and logging and maintenance roads, operating between May 1 and Oct. 31 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, according the application.

The off-road driving school would be run by Adventure ORX, a Dearborn, Mich.-based company contracting with Ford to organize the Bronco off-road driving program in several states.

Officials at Woodstock Inn and Suicide Six declined to discuss the project, saying the proposal is only one of “several initiatives” the resort is weighing for the ski area and “not definitive at this point.”

The Inn would stand to gain not only by leasing the ski area but also by Ford Bronco owners staying at the resort in Woodstock during their time in the area.

But the Bronco off-road driving course proposal at Suicide Six shares elements with the Land Rover off-road driving course at the Equinox Golf Resort & Spa in Manchester, Vt., which, like the Woodstock Inn, caters to upscale guests. Courtney Lowe, vice president of marketing and business development at the Woodstock Inn, was an executive at the Equinox when the Land Rover program was first introduced there in 1996.

The proposal to introduce off-roading at Suicide Six is the latest iteration of the Woodstock Inn’s search for revenue-generating ideas at the ski area during the offseason.

A couple years ago the Inn was granted Act 250 approval to introduce mountain biking at the site, which it ran for two seasons before the pandemic forced it to close the 2020 season.

Today, the public has free “pedal access” at Suicide Six over a network of mountain bike trails maintained by the resort and volunteers from the Woodstock Area Mountain Bike Association.

Matt Stout, president of WAMBA, said that although members may have different viewpoints the organization itself is “not for or against” the off-roading proposal because it recognizes a property can host different forms of outdoor recreation.

“We’re always up for figuring out a way to manage multiple uses of the land,” he said, explaining that “four-season activity is the key to sustainability of the mountain.”

The Suicide Six plan — which also must receive zoning approval by Pomfret — additionally proposes erecting two structures for vehicle storage and maintenance of up to 30 Ford Broncos: a permanent 30-foot green fabric “hoop barn” and adjoining wash pad on the south side of Barnard Brook that would be situated behind a 270-foot-long, 6-foot-high wooden fence and a temporary site located north of the brook and within the footprint of the existing Suicide Six parking lot to be used while the permanent facility is being built.

Unlike the Land Rover program at the Equinox, which is open to guests at the resort and the general public, the Ford Bronco driving school at Suicide Six would be by invitation only to new Bronco owners as a “complimentary one-and-a-half day experience to familiarize themselves with the vehicles and its off-pavement capabilities,” according to the Act 250 filing.

“At night, customers will be invited to socialize at the existing ski lodge and light entertainment will be provided, including occasional live or recorded music and outdoor movie,” the application said.

Adventure ORX would organize two separate customer groups at Suicide Six per day with each group consisting of 18 Ford Bronco owners plus one guest.

The Woodstock Inn estimates that “most days” 50 to 75 people will be at the site with a projected maximum of 100, “far fewer people than are regularly present at Suicide Six during the winter ski season,” according to the application.

Some abutters and neighbors said they did not have objections to the Woodstock Inn’s off-roading proposal, although others said they were wary about the vehicular and people traffic the activity would draw to the area.

“I’m extremely supportive of anything Suicide Six is pursuing,” said Ryan Longfield, whose 90 acres abuts the south border of the ski property, explaining the off-roading venture would benefit the local economy.

“With this potential activity over the next few years and the addition of mountain bike trails two years ago (the off-roading course) brings increased tourism and revenue to the local economy,” Longfield said.

But Kathleen Dolan, who owns the Teago General Store and runs the ArtisTree Community Arts Center, both in the heart of South Pomfret, said the proposal is “going to have quite an impact on the ambience of South Pomfret.”

“This just sounds like Motor City,” she added.

Given her own experience in working with neighbors of the store and ArtisTree who are sensitive to interruptions in their “quiet, rural life,” Dolan predicted “I can’t imagine this is going to fly with the residents here.”

At the same time, Dolan said, “I understand Suicide Six is trying to stay alive,” and noted too that both ArtisTree and the general store stand to gain financially with people coming to the proposed SUV venture.

“I’m really torn,” she said.

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.




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