Could a new craft brewery and distillery finance the return of lift access to Dummerston’s Maple Valley Ski Area?
Dummerston’s Maple Valley Ski Area, which has been closed to skiers and riders since 2000, may soon be the home of a new craft brewery and distillery.
On May 23, the 375-acre property was purchased by Connecticut-based Sugar Mountain Holdings, LLC for $745,000.
The ski area itself is a vestige of the past. At 375-acres with 16 ski trails, it’s one of those small, mom and pop spots from a more affordable era of skiing. The website, which seems to have been last updated several years ago, boasts that “most of the local population under 30 years old learned to ski here.”
Since the sale, Keane Aures has emerged as the spokesperson for Sugar Mountain Holdings. He is also the senior counsel in the Hartford office of Gordon & Rees law firm, where he specializes in construction law. During a phone call on June 28, Aures said he was interested in the possibility of restoring lift access to Sugar Mountain–if the proposed distillery and brewery business can turn enough of a profit to fund lift operations.
Aures said on June 28 that the existing base lodge at Maple Valley will house the new distillery and brewing operations, following a “build out.”
Why Maple Valley?
Aures has spent a lot of time in Vermont. His Aunt and Uncle, Bill and Patti Pusey, own Shearer Hill Farm Bed and Breakfast in Wilmington. He grew up visiting their farm and has skied often at Mount Snow and Haystack Mountain since high school.
“I think it was the visibility,” said Aures when asked why he was compelled to purchase the Maple Valley property for his business endeavor. “You drive by it every time, driving Route 30 up to Stratton, and I always wondered, why is there this great little ski mountain sitting here, closed? It cries out for someone to do something with it.”
He confessed that his curiosity led him to hike the mountain and ski it by snowshoe, but that he never had the opportunity to ski at Maple Valley while the lifts were running.
Aures said he thinks there’s an emerging market for no-frills, old-school, affordable skiing. “With all of the consolidations, it’s amazing what resorts have done to make ski mountains better every year, but every year, the prices get higher too. If you want to take your family skiing for a day, it’s very expensive,” he said.
He sees a strong interest in the high-end resort skiing experience larger mountains offer, especially among New Yorkers, and said Vermont’s ski areas do it well. “But I think there is a real market for someone who just wants to get outside and spend the day skiing, then grab a craft beer and go to a food truck at the end of the day.”
The Business Plan
As reported above, Aures’ first priority will be to open a brewery and distillery at the former ski mountain. According to a June 25 report by The Brattleboro Reformer, Aures told the Dummerston Select Board on June 20 that he also plans to develop a productive vineyard at the site within three to five years. The Brattleboro Reformer reported that, at the same meeting, Aures said it could take eight to ten years to reinstate lift-access to the ski area.
In a June 28 conversation with Vermont Ski + Ride, Aures said he saw a niche in the ski market for mountains of Maple Valley’s scale and character. “I think there’s been a real shift towards people wanting things that are authentic,” said Aures. “You could make that at a smaller ski mountain, but the economics are difficult.” Aures reiterated that he is hoping the distillery and brewery will generate enough revenue to allow Sugar Mountain Holdings to put some of that revenue back into the ski mountain to “someday have a lift open.”
With regard to a timeline for opening the brewery, Aures said it will all depend on permitting for the distillery. To legally distill liquor, he’ll have to obtain permits from both the state and federal governments. He said that if all goes as planned, he would like to open the renovated facility in summer or fall of 2019.