Resort News: The Changing Landscape

Vermont’s resort landscape is changing fast. And with new owners, base lodges, lifts and events this season, it’s all for the better. 

Just how good was this past season? To see photographic evidence, turn to “Endless Winter,” p. 32. But in essence: it was good. Real good. With statewide Thanksgiving openings, a World Cup event at Killington that went off with a bang, and a season that boasted thigh-deep powder, it was one for the records.

It was also a season of epic changes at ski areas across Vermont. Just a year ago Geoff Hatheway led a group of avid skiers and investors in resurrecting Magic Mountain and its lifts ran again in early December, 2016. In April, Ralph DesLauriers and his family bought back the mountain Ralph and his father built up from 1966 to when they sold it in 1977.  “When I built Bolton Valley back in the ’60s, I made it my mission to give every Vermont child the opportunity to ski, Bolton Valley,”  DesLauriers remembers.

Other areas also saw new leadership; Matt Lillard coming from Alaska’s Eaglecrest ski area to manage Mad River Glen; Killington veteran Tim Reiter taking over at Suicide Six and Vail Resorts’ ski school director Bobby Murphy taking the top spot at Stowe.

News that made national headlines came in February when Vail Resorts announced it was buying Stowe. And then again in April, when the news came out that Stratton was part of a $1.7-billion dollar play a group of investors made for Intrawest’s resorts. The offer—the largest in ski resort history—came from a group formed by KSL Capital Partners and Henry Crown & Co., the owner of Aspen Skiing Company, and Squaw Valley Ski Holdings. They beat out 173 other bidders to buy Intrawest’s six ski resorts (Vermont’s Stratton Mountain, Steamboat and Winter Park in Colorado, Canada’s Mt. Tremblant and Blue Mountain) and Canadian Mountain Holidays 12 heliskiing lodges. The group then gobbled up California’s Mammoth Mountain and its three affiliate resorts. Then, this summer, they added Deer Valley, Utah.

The new ownership group has yet to find a name and its Intrawest and other acquisitions have yet to close. When they do, it will pit the new conglomerate directly against Vail Resorts’ 15 resorts. Given that the man at the top of KSL Capital Partners is Michael Shannon, who served as president and CEO of Vail Associates from 1985 to 1992, the competition is bound to be fierce. At Stratton, no changes in ticketing or operations have been announced yet for this season but you can be sure next season will see some big ones and new inter-mountain passes.

Are these changes a good thing? Under Vail’s ownership, Stowe’s Epic Pass is almost half this year what a Stowe season pass cost last year and provides access to 14 other resorts. Vail Resorts’s CEO Rob Katz and his wife gave $100,000 to the Stowe Land Trust this past summer. And under the new management of Bobby Murphy, Stowe is already investing in parking and relaxing policies on uphill skinning. Then there is Vail Resorts’ Epic Promise for a Zero Footprint: a commitment to reaching “zero emissions, zero waste to landfill and zero net operating impact to forests and habitat by 2030.”  

Vail Resorts is not alone: With an eye to the future, resorts around Vermont are making an effort to go green with fuel-efficient snow cats, energy-efficient snow guns and alliances with Efficiency Vermont.

At the same time, they are adding RFID passes (scannable tickets that allow them to better track skier traffic and skiers to track their days, their kids and more),  building new lodges and adding lots to do off-snow.

Mount Snow will double its capacity to pump snowmaking water uphill this season.

Here’s what’s new for this winter season.

Ascutney Gets a Lodge

After sitting idle for five years, Ascutney Mountain is making a comeback. Last year, the mountain opened a ropetow from the base to what used to be its mid-station and created trails for mountain biking, hiking and skiing. This year, Ascutney Outdoors, the collaborative created in the vacuum the resort’s closure left, is aiming even higher. It purchased the burned-down lodge and has begun designing a new building, the Ascutney Outdoors Center. With $430,000 already raised, the organization predicts that the building will be completed in the fall of 2018. This winter, they hope to have an Act 250 permit approved for a tubing park and increased maintenance to trails.

Bromley Renovates

In Peru, Bromley upgrades its lodge with a new roof and a resurfaced Sun Deck (all the better for aprés hangs at the on-deck firepit). Plus, it expands its rental fleet with Rossignol Experience 80 skis.

Bolton Valley Comes Full Circle

Burlington’s Ralph DesLauriers and his family once again own Bolton Valley Resort. Though management will remain under the leadership of Bolton Valley president George B. Potter, DesLauriers says big changes are in store: “Our guests can expect to see steady progress toward a major revitalization of the resort over the next few years.” For the coming season, Bolton plans to upgrade their snowmaking system with 15 new guns and hoses and a more powerful pump that will allow up to 40 guns (up from 25) to operate simultaneously. Bailey’s Restaurant will serve breakfast regularly on weekdays and brunch on Sundays. Finally, Bolton will return to a 9 a.m. lift opening this year and extend hours through 10 p.m. for night skiing Tuesday through Saturday. (Monday and Sunday, lifts operate from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m.)

Burke Designated a U.S. Ski Team Center

Last season Burke opened a stunning new on-mountain hotel. This season, Burke spent the summer replacing the decade-old T-bar with a new $1.5 million Poma model, a change that will afford five times the uphill capacity. They’ve also added 13,400 feet of snowmaking pipe, which will feed snow to McHarg’s Cut-Off and Upper Doug’s Drop, two trails that have never seen snowmaking until now. And Burke Mountain Academy has seen a major upgrade with the new Ronnie Berlack Center, which was recently named a U.S. Ski Team High Performance Center. It features 6,000 square feet of turf field and a 4,700-square-foot training area with a rubberized floor.

Jay Peak Adds Movie Theater and Climbing Rec Center

When you’re done skiing at Jay Peak and have hit the waterpark, this season you can settle in at a new 142-seat movie theater or check out the new Clip ‘n Climb climbing facility—both part of the new 15,000-square foot Clips and Reels recreation center. Jay Peak is also opening a new 12-plex of mountain cottages dedicated to employee housing, giving the resort the ability to house up to 150 employees.

Killington Builds Out Base Area and MTB Trails

Folks over at Killington are preparing for the FIS World Cup, scheduled for Thanksgiving weekend (see p. 44). The $60-$70 million upgrades to Bear Mountain’s base area are still on track for construction next summer. These include new multi-family dwellings, a major remodeling of the Bear Mountain Base Lodge and a new fixed-grip quad chairlift on Killington’s South Ridge. Thanks to a $1 million partnership with Efficiency Vermont, Killington will install new, low-energy, tower-mounted snow guns at both Killington and Pico. This fall, Killington’s new bike trails are ready for riding. In recent years, the resort has put $400,000 into a network of more than 35 MTB trails.

Mad River Glen Upgrades The Birdcage

Mad River Glen gets a new manager, Matt Millard, and  its mid-mountain lodge, The Birdcage, will get some upgrades this winter, including a new 12-foot by 60-foot deck and an airlock entrance. The

Mad River Glen renovates the classic birdcage.

Birdcage, which was originally built in 1961, is the place to get made-to-order Little Ripper hot dogs, a heap of marshmallows in your cocoa, and killer baked sweet treats (carried to the lodge every morning via snowmobile). Eric Friedman, marketing director at MRG, says the current building was in need of this $60,000 update. “We just want people to get turned on to it,” he said. “It’s a cool vibe up there.” And down at the base lodge, General Stark’s Pub’s balcony will add a snack bar and table service, creating a quieter dining option.

Magic Adds Lifts and Some Insane Events

When Magic Mountain expanded into a year-round resort by adding an 18-hole disc golf course this summer, it was just getting started on upgrades. In late August, the area gained Act 250 approval for a slew of projects. On Magic’s new to-do list for this winter season: complete the base-to-mid-mountain Green Chair lift, build a ski patrol shack, construct a mid-mountain guest services yurt, upgrade  lighting for the snow tubing area and replace 1,500 feet of underground snowmaking pipe. The mountain is still waiting on Act 250 approval to expand the snowmaking pond. Magic also plans to host three new events this winter, including “Tuck It Or Suck It,” a speed skiing competition on New Year’s Eve; “WinterFest 2018,” with Olympic-style events, a torchlight parade and fireworks; and on St. Paddy’s day, “The Ultimate Skier Challenge,” in which skiers will race top to bottom Black Line’s 1,500 feet of vertical with both freeskiing and giant slalom components.

Middlebury Snow Bowl To Host Championships

This fall, along with routine maintenance projects, folks at the Middlebury Snow Bowl replaced 2,000 feet of its underground snowmaking pipe. The Snow Bowl will host the finals and the championship for the Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association on February 23 and 24. Look for new events at Rikert Nordic Center, just down the road, too.

Mount Snow Brings Out the Big Guns

With a 100-million-gallon expansion to its water storage pond, Mount Snow will definitely live up to its name this season. The $30 million West Lake Project will increase water storage for snowmaking six-fold and double the capacity to pump water uphill.  Jamie Storrs, communications manager, notes: “With our new system and the volume that we can pump uphill, we now have the most powerful system in the East.” The new system will allow Mount Snow to open more trails earlier in the season—where they might normally open one or two trails, they can now open three to nine—and to pile snow back on just 24 hours after a washout. With help from Efficiency Vermont, Mount Snow will also replace the last 220 of their old snow guns with energy efficient ones, making their fleet 100 percent low-E. These latest bring Mount Snow to 80 percent snowmaking coverage, with plans to expand to 100 percent. Meanwhile, the foundation has been poured for the new, three-story, 36,000-square-foot Carinthia base lodge to be completed next summer.

At Okemo, Good Grooming Gets Better

This winter, Okemo’s corduroy could be even better than before. The resort will add two grooming machines– a Bison and a Bison X–to its grooming fleet. The Bison X will be used specifically for jumps, pipes and rails. The resort also plans to rebuild the Zaugg Superpipe Cutter, which is responsible for the care and keeping of Okemo’s 450-foot-long Superpipe. Skiers and riders will see more snow on the Jolly Green Giant trail. Okemo will also invest $17,000 to upgrade tuning equipment in the rental shops.

Pico Pumps it Up

Pico Mountain is working to expand two snowmaking ponds to improve the snowmaking efficiency. They’ll also replace the trunk line for compressed air, giving Pico better air pressure higher on the mountain. The mountain will add additional tower-mounted low-energy snow guns on Middle Pike, 49er and Fools Gold.

More Fun and RFID at Smuggler’s Notch

Smugglers’ Notch is still celebrating the opening of their Fun Zone 2.0, a fun-and-games center complete with a climbing wall, obstacle course, laser tag arena, arcade and much more. This will be the upgraded Fun Zone’s first winter season in action. “Since its opening on April 1, it has been well received. We expect this enthusiasm to carry into the winter as well,” said public relations director Mike Chait. Smuggs is also implementing RFID ticketing that can be used both on the mountain and in the Fun Zone. The new system will allow skiers and riders to reload with additional day passes.

Stowe Finds Parking Spaces

Vail’s acquisition of Stowe came with a nearly 50 percent drop in season pass prices (from $1700 to about $850 if you bought early)—and with that, a presumed influx of passholders this season. Stowe’s new general manager, Bobby Murphy  is already addressing this. Look for 140 new spaces, thanks to an expanded parking at the mountain’s cross-country center and a new lot between the gondola building and the Midway Lodge. The resort is also budgeting for the removal of snow from blocked parking spots, hiring more parking staff, and designating a separate lot for uphill skiers who generally arrive early. Stowe has also been working with the Vermont Agency of Transportation to develop a bus system. To encourage carpooling, the resort may reserve front-row parking for cars with three or more passengers. All of the above are ideas. And Stowe may see a change in its uphill policy; asking skinners to call a hotline ahead to find out where grooming will occur. Stay tuned.

Stratton Awaits Buyout, Adds to Fitness Center

Until the acquisition of its parent company, Intrawest, is completed later this year, Stratton is operating as usual. The resort has added two fuel-efficient snowcats to their fleet of 11. The cats will be used in general grooming and to transport guests to Saturday night gourmet dinners at the Mid-Mountain Lodge. Stratton also switched to electric compressors in their snowmaking guns, shaving away 40 percent of their diesel usage. This fall, the mountain will also add an outdoor hot tub and two new saunas to the Fitness Center.

Sugarbush Adds New Lifts, Passes, RFIDs and Rumble’s

This year, Sugarbush joins the Mountain Collective Pass (see p. 6). The mountain will be replacing two double lifts with fixed-grip quads, by the start of the season. The Village Double at Lincoln Peak will be exchanged for the Village Quad, and likewise, The Sunny Double for the Sunny Quad. Sugarbush will also replace their old ticket scanning system with RFID gates. “We expect this upgrade to make the lift line experience smoother and much more pleasant,” said communications supervisor John Bleh. In other news from the ‘Bush, Timbers restaurant closed this spring, and Rumble’s Kitchen opened in its place, named in memory of resort owner Win Smith’s beloved Bernese mountain dog, Rumble’s kitchen will serve fresh seasonal cooking.

Suicide Six Upgrades Lodge and Lifts

Suicide Six celebrates a new lift.

New manager Tim Reiter is changing Suicide Six’s snow game in several ways. He’s started by reshaping the trails and plans to invest in automated snow guns. Last December, the mountain installed a new Leitner-Poma quad lift, which director of sales and marketing Courtney Lowe described as “a gift from an angel.”  That angel was a grant from the Laurance S. Rockefeller Fund, given to help maintain the historic resort, which Rockefeller bought in 1961. This year, the mountain’s base lodge has decorated its lobby with historic photos of Suicide Six founder Bunny Bertram and Rockefeller and the resort owner, The Woodstock Inn has invested $6.5 million into redoing its guest rooms and suites.

Featured image by Brooks Curran. Slaying the slopes above Stowe after winter Storm Stella in March of 2017.