The emerging Hermitage Clubhouse promises a different kind of skiing experience with its focus on quality service and unique, luxurious features.
West Dover — To describe the past three years at the Hermitage Club as “busy” would be an understatement. Since 2011, when Connecticut businessman Jim Barnes bought the neighboring Hermitage Inn, the area at the bottom of the 3,200-foot mountain in Southern Vermont has been a flurry of activity. With new lifts, snowmaking and a new clubhouse anticipated to open by Christmas, Vermont Ski & Ride Magazine stopped by for a tour to see the latest developments and learn what’s in store for this season.
A short drive from the state highway, an imposing gatehouse of stone and post-and-beam construction greeted me as I turned into the entrance of the Hermitage. As I drove up the wide, paved road I passed new ski lifts, a trailer containing snowmobiles and a handful of recently poured foundations sitting empty in the ground. At an office in one of several newly developed townhouses just a short distance from the lift, I met my tour guide, Bobbi Resek, a membership advisor for the club, who gave me an update on some of the biggest changes at the club. Standing next to a replica model of the mountain and club property, Resek described some of the club’s biggest developments. In addition to two new chairlifts, the clubhouse and the other houses and condominium developments around the mountain, the club recently renovated a local airport with new hangars, terminal and plans to extend the runway to allow landing room for larger chartered jets.
After putting on our jackets, we walked up the driveway towards an impressive 80,000-square foot clubhouse oriented with its windows facing eastward to the Deerfield Valley. The other side faces the ski slope.
With an elevation of 3,200 feet and a vertical drop of 1,400 feet, Haystack has 45 trails, two 30-acre glades and snowmaking coverage on 90 percent of terrain. Since last year, two new lifts have been installed and more – including a six-pack chair with retractable bubble – are on their way. One of the two new lifts rises from the learning area to a midway loading/offloading point and then carries skiers to just above the base lodge where they can access the rest of the mountain. The other extends from the Hermitage Inn up the hillside of Haystack Mountain.
The sidewalk surrounding the clubhouse is heated with radiant tiles to prevent slippery puddles of ice from forming. After walking through two clubhouse doors next to the valet parking circle, we were welcomed by a massive fireplace, large enough to stand in. The main floor of the clubhouse was wide and thickly carpeted with clusters of coffee tables and chairs and to one side, a large bar offered views of the ski slope outside and several large flatscreen TV’s. On the far end of the ground floor, a large stage is open for performances.
Above the floor, the beams of the lodge rose to the ceiling in an intricate post-and-beam design joined entirely with pegs – not a single nail. Chandeliers of replica antlers held lights. The logo of the club, a stag, was visible throughout the interior.
Through another door, we visited a cafeteria and a kitchen, which supports a much larger kitchen on the floor below. We also saw a private dining room that seats 25 and a larger space that can be used for larger gatherings like weddings or conferences.
When fully operational, the clubhouse is managed by a staff of 220, many of which do their jobs outside of the view of the members. Trucks delivering food and other goods are concealed from sight by a bridge, which members can ski over en-route to their ski-in-ski-out homes (Resek told me the trick is borrowed from Disney Land, which uses similar sleight of hand to hide delivering tractor trailer trucks at their signature castle in Orlando, Fl.).
“The overall concept is ‘seamless,’” said Resek. “You never see activity, you just see the end result.”
While the space was empty and quiet while we walked around, it was easy to see how this could be a warm and inviting atmosphere in the winter months. In October, some 1,000 people attended a soft opening event for the clubhouse. With food prepared in the kitchen below ground and live music by Grammy award-winner Rob Thomas. It was the first time the space had been used and Resek said everything worked like clockwork.
“We had 1,000 people and not one complaint,” she said.
After leaving the conference rooms, we climbed a staircase to see some of the locker rooms reserved for members that make a higher initial investment in addition to their membership. The floors are covered with thick green carpet (no concrete) and have comfortable leather armchairs and coffee tables. Each spacious locker is secured with a digital combination and has room for stowing pairs of boots, helmets, gloves and all of your other equipment. The driers are turned on automatically every evening at 6 p.m. and turn off in the morning at 7, ensuring that your boots are warm and dry when you get ready for the day’s first runs.
Your skis are stored at a valet and will be ready when you are, outside at a designated rack with a number – no carrying of skis or boards required, simply tell the front desk, put on your freshly-warmed boots and head outside to a designated rack.
“You touch your skis at the beginning of the year and at the end of the year,” was how Resek put it.
Having seen one of the kitchens, the main clubhouse floor and the locker rooms for equity-level members, we took a walk around the mezzanine level of the club house, looking down on the fireplace and seating before taking an elevator down to see more members locker rooms, a fitness center and a spa, which were still under busy with construction activities.
The bottom floor features a ski school meeting area, a retail shop with a full demo program, daycare area and another information desk. Nearby, the fitness center offers a spinning classroom, offices for trainers, yoga studio, free weights, hot tub and a two-lane swimming pool.
A short walk down the hall is a kids’ and teens’ recreation room with a workspace for editing footage from helmet-mounted cameras, a 52-seat movie theater and a two-lane bowling alley. The space also has a snack bar stocked with healthier snacks, like smoothies.
While the kids can star in their own ski movies and catch a movie, through a (smartly) soundproofed wall, the spa will be where the adults can blow off some steam. When completed, the spa will have 14 rooms offering a variety of massages including deep-tissue, sports massage, hot rocks and massages for couples. The spa also has classrooms and showers.
The club is open Friday through Sunday and on holiday weeks throughout the winter. The structure of the building is nearly complete and 180 people are working three shifts, six days a week to finish the job and deliver it to club membership by Christmas. Currently, the club has about 420 members including families and couples. The Hermitage is capped at 1,500 members per approximately 6,000 people. Resek told me the club has yet to see more than 42 percent of the club’s members on the hill and with lifts that can move 72 people uphill every hour, that means no lift lines and skiing all day long.
“The biggest complaint we’ve had is from people complaining that their legs are getting tired,” said Resek. “You start to be grateful for the chairlift ride to give you a break.”
In an interview last winter, club president Jim Barnes noted that interest in the club is from people who have “been skiing the Northeast and they’re used to crowded lodges, food [that’s] not great, huge lines and skied off conditions in a half hour,” particularly in states other than Vermont and closer to urban centers. The clientele of the Hermitage Club clearly want a different skiing experience and this winter, as more phases of development are completed, they’ll get precisely that.
“What we’re providing is something that’s really not available anywhere else. It’s really that simple,” he said. “The people who are joining are really falling in love with skiing all over again.”
As I walked back to my car, the dampness of November indicated coming weather – possibly snow. When the snow finally did start piling, I decided I wouldn’t mind being out on Haystack Mountain myself.