Last April 10, as temperatures soared to 80 degrees in Burlington, the news broke that yet another Vermont ski resort had changed hands.
This time, it was Aspen Skiing Co. and KSL Partners, a private equity firm that had a stake in Squaw Valley, buying Stratton and the five other resorts in the Intrawest group for $1.6 billion. A week later, Aspen/KSL also bought Mammoth Mountain and four affiliated resorts near Los Angeles.
This came on the heels of a season where Vail had purchased Stowe, Ralph DesLauriers, the former owner, bought back Bolton Valley, Magic Mountain reopened for business and the assets of Okemo and 36 other properties (including 14 ski resorts nationwide) changed hands in the biggest ski resort real estate deal in history. This all spelled good news for season pass holders. As Vail Resorts put the price of an Epic Pass at $859, almost half of what Stowe’s previous season pass price was, resorts around the state came out with some of the best early season pass deals in years (see vtskiandride.com for prices).
Meanwhile, Sugarbush continued to build out its on-mountain condos. Mount Snow got approval for its EB-5-funding. This will allow a $52 million renovation for snowmaking and the Carinthia base area project to go forward. Jay Peak and Burke received more than $150 million as part of a settlement with Raymond James, the investment firm that handled former owner Ariel Quiro’s EB-5 funds. And Killington announced a plan to invest more than $110 million in new base area at Bear Mountain. Yes, all in one season.
One thing these expansions have in common: a firm belief that Vermont’s mountains have a bright future as year-round destinations. “I’m looking forward to coming back to the change of seasons,” said Stowe’s new general manager Bobby Murphy when he learned of his new job. “Stowe is a three-season resort.”
That’s increasingly true as resorts around the state build out their summer offerings. With a growing network of mountain bike trails, ropes courses, zip-lines, flyboarding, concert series, festivals, races and other events, there’s no longer an “off season” in the Green Mountains. Here’s a look at the news from resorts around the state and what’s up for this summer.
BOLTON’S BACK IN THE FAMILY
Between 1966 and 1997, Ralph DesLauriers built Bolton Valley into much of what it is today. At the same time, he raised two sons, Eric and Rob, who would go on to become pioneers of extreme skiing. Then he sold. In the 20 years since, the resort high in the mountains above Bolton has gone through five owners. Then, this past April, DesLauriers, two of his other children, Lindsay and Evan, and a group of investors bought back the resort from Burlington-based developers, the Redstone Group.
The current management is expected to stay in place under George Potter, and summer events like Hop Jam, a brew fest with a line-up of local beers and bands, remains on tap for August 19.
Throughout the summer Bolton hosts a series of creative events ranging from competitions involving remote-controlled cars and drones to adventure races. Says DesLauriers, “We are looking forward to making Bolton Valley Resort a year-round recreational home for families to enjoy. It’s our way of giving back to our community.”
BROMLEY BETS ON SUMMER
“Bromley has always been about families, summer and winter,” says manager Brian Fairbank, who this past May was awarded the Lifetime Achievement award at the National Ski Areas Association annual conference. If you’re looking for a way to burn off kids’ kinetic energy, Bromley has options with one of the longest alpine slides in the world, the Sun Mountain Flyer (a chair on a zipline) that can hit 50 mph, a four-story strap-in swing, a waterslide, space bikes and rides you might find at an amusement park. Plus, there’s the Aerial Park with a canopy tour and challenge course with 65 unique elements.
BURKE AND JAY PEAK GET $150 MILLION
In April, Burke Mountain Resort and Jay Peak received a $150 million settlement with Raymond James Financial, Inc., as part of the ongoing EB-5 fraud case against former resort owner Ariel Quiros. Then, in May, Quiros’ $950,000 tax return was handed over to the resorts, under care of the receiver, Michael Goldberg.
At Burke Mountain Resort, the money will help replace a decade-old T-bar with a new POMA model. The POMA, and Burke Mountain Academy’s new $2.8 million 15,000-square foot Ronnie Berlack Training Center are boons for the resort and the U.S. Ski Team, which named Burke an official development site this past winter.
The new $55-million Burke Mountain Hotel and Conference Center, a four-season hotel that opened slopeside in September 2016, is going strong this summer with regular lobster dinners on the Willoughby Deck, along with Bluegrass Barbeques at the bike park. From the hotel’s patio, you can access 13 downhill trails that comprise Burke Bike Park (scheduled to open May 27) as well as miles of cross-country dirt. On August 5 and 6, the mountain will host the Clif Enduro East World Qualifier, bringing mountain bikers from around the East and Canada.
Sister resort Jay Peak will use the EB-5 settlement proceeds to continue building out the Stateside hotel and 64 cottages. In addition, they’ll put up a 15,000-square-foot recreation center with a movie theater, state of the art arcade and “clip and climb” climbing gym, all of which will be complete for the 2017-18 winter season. Half a mile down the street, Jay will start work on fields for soccer, lacrosse and field hockey tournaments that should be completed for 2018.
This summer Jay will bring back a lineup of festivals, including the 4th Annual Jeezum Crow Festival, July 14-15 with two days of live music, headlined by Big Head Todd & The Monsters and Pink Talking Fish. The Garden of Eden Festival hosts Strangefolk at Jay’s Stateside Amphitheater on August 11-12, and the 13th Annual August West Fest, celebrating the music of The Grateful Dead, will take place on the same weekend, August 11. Jay’s famed Pump House Waterpark is open and if you’re looking to raise your kids the ‘Jay Way,’ send them to the Raised Jay summer camps, where they’ll experience hiking, surfing, golf, kayaking, outdoor survival skills and more.
MAGIC OPENS YEAR ROUND
This past winter, Magic Mountain reopened under new management with the famed Red Chair and by February had the Black Chair running as well. This summer, the resort hopes to complete the Green Lift, which runs from the base area to mid-mountain. The Green Lift was partially installed in the early 2000s, but never completed. The lodge at Magic Mountain also received a makeover this year, with a new bar area for the Black Line Tavern; a new cafeteria layout, and a new roof. This summer, starting June 29 the Tavern will be open Thursdays through Sundays from 4-11 p.m.
MOUNT SNOW BREAKS GROUND
Mount Snow’s EB-5 funding was approved this past winter meaning it will now go full-bore on a $52 million project that will include expanded snowmaking. The best news? It will break ground this summer for the new, three-story, 36,000-square-foot lodge that will replace the existing Carinthia Base Lodge. When it is complete in 2018, it should house several food outlets, a rental shop, retail and convenience store, and feature a modifiable interior that can host conferences and weddings in the summer.
In the meantime, on June 24-25, the mountain brings back the New England Tough Mudder, which draws thousands of people every year. Mount Snow’s bike park and trails are also busy. The resort has been hosting lift-served mountain biking terrain for 31 years. Test yourself on the park’s berms, ladders and dirt jumps or, for beginners, head to Trail 7, the longest introductory downhill trail in the East.
KILLINGTON GETS A NEW BASE
When it comes to expansions, Killington is earning its title Beast of the East. With Act 250 approval now in its pocket, the new base village plans are moving forward. And there’s more news: In April president Mike Solimano announced a $110 million Bear Mountain Revitalization Plan to create a new base for the Bear Mountain area with construction beginning in summer 2018. This will include remodeling the current base lodge, putting in six or seven multi-family dwellings, and installing a new fixed-grip lift on South Ridge. And that’s just Phase 1. Phase 2 will include 18 new duplexes and is slated for 2020.
But that’s not all. Over the past few years, Killington has spent upwards of $5.5 million on its summer attractions. That includes a $400,000 massive build out of what now amounts to more than 35 miles of mountain bike trails. And the town of Killington just got a grant to add 5 more miles of trails.
To celebrate, the Vermont Bike & Brew Festival will kick off on June 9th to 11th with a mass downhill ride from the top of the gondola, a beer tent, bands, bike swap and camping at a new Killington-built camp site. Since creating the Killington Bike Park, the resort has seen a growth in ticket sales from 4,900 in 2014 to 12,000 last year. This year, the resort projects another 33 percent growth to 16,000 visitors.
Killington also becomes one of three stops on the new Under Armour Mountain Marathon series, a race that sends runners on a 26.2 mile route between Killington and Pico peaks (with a variety of shorter options) and the Spartan race returns.
Also new this summer, flyboarding (like putting a jet pack on your feet in the water) comes to the pond opposite Snowshed Lodge, new Tesla electric car charging stations are going in and the Killington Grand Hotel gets a $2 million makeover.
OKEMO BUILDS OUT BIKE TRAILS
Okemo is also expanding its mountain bike offerings. The Evolution Bike Park will see a new two-mile trail. Starting near the top terminal of the Sunburst Six chairlift, the path will wind across ski trails and the wooded areas between them. Construction of a second, more advanced summit trail is also scheduled to begin this summer. The Sunburst Six chairs will be outfitted with racks for transporting mountain bikes to the summit. Okemo is also home to an adventure center, where a $59-day pass gives you access to the mountain’s famed Timber Ripper Mountain Coaster, scenic chairlift rides, a climbing wall, miniature golf course and more.
SMUGGS OPENS NEW FUNZONE
For the kids (and your inner child), head to the brand new Fun Zone 2.0 Smugglers’ Notch, a facility dedicated entirely to games and kid-friendly fun. Its two stories and 26,000 square feet include an arcade, laser tag arena, ‘Smuggs Warrior’ course, multi-sided climbing wall, giant inflatable slide and obstacle course, slot car track, foosball table, shuffle board, mini golf, private party rooms, a cafe (licensed for adult beverages) and an entirely separate loft for toddlers. Plus, don’t miss the mountain biking skills park, swimming beach and water parks, and flyboarding (like a jetpack worn on your feet, propelled by water) in Bootleggers’ Basin and disc-golf courses.
STRATTON GETS GROOVY
Big news came down in late April when a coalition formed between Aspen Skiiing Company and KSL Parnters, investors in California’s Squaw Valley, announced the purchase of Stratton, five other Intrawest Resorts, Mammoth and four more California resorts associated with it. At present, no changes are planned for this coming summer and Stratton is going full bore with its legendary tennis schools and its 27-hole golf course (with its three 9-hole lake, mountain and forest sections.) Yogis and others head to Wanderlust (June 22-25), a four-day all-you-can-yoga event featuring the world’s leading instructors, live music, top chefs and winemakers and dancing under the stars. On August 19-20, Stratton hosts the last two days of the Vermont Challenge, a four-day bike ride through southern and central Vermont.
STOWE GETS BACK TO NATURE
Last summer saw big changes at Stowe with the opening of the 40-foot climbing wall in the new Spruce Peak Adventure Center, the installation of one of the longest zip lines in America and a Treetops Adventure ropes and canopy climbing course. All of those are back in line for this summer starting June 24. As for new programs, until the sale to Vail Resorts closed (expected in June), new general manager Bobby Murphy was reluctant to promise anything.
However, there is an indicator of what may be to come: Over the last two summers Vail and Vail-owned Heavenly Resort near Lake Tahoe, Calif, have started Epic Discovery, a series of “experiences” that includes canopy tours, alpine coasters and zip lining and interpretative trails, created in partnership with The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Forest Service. Vail officials have hinted that a similar program might come to Stowe and in May Vail Resorts’ president Rob Katz and his wife Elana Amsterdam quietly gave $100,000 to the Stowe Land Trust. There are also permits in place for mountain biking from the triple chair on Mt. Mansfield.
SUGARBUSH HOSTS NEW FESTIVALS
This summer Sugarbush makes several updates to the golf course, including a new roof on the clubhouse, more than $30,000 in new equipment and a revamped retail shop. Sugarbush is also reviving its upper mountain disc golf course, which will have nine holes, accessed by chairlift or on foot (after a good hike). The resort will also make changes for winter, including replacing the two remaining double lifts, Village Double and Sunny Double, with new, fixed-grip quads to improve the beginner experience at both mountains. For next season, Sugarbush will also purchase two new groomers and replace snowmaking pipe at Mt. Ellen.
And with three festivals, the ‘Bush will keep up their high-energy vibe straight through the summer season. The Brew-Grass Festival (June 10), is the only brew festival that exclusively serves Vermont-based beers and ciders. On June 29, Sugarbush hosts The Frendly Gathering, with camping, art, yoga, local food, skateboarding, dance workshops and frends (because there’s no “I” in friends). Mountain bikers then gather at the Vermont Mountain Bike Festival (July 21-23) to ride technical, rocky, flowy and downhill trails all over the valley, with free onsite camping at Mount Ellen and lift-served downhill at Lincoln Peak.
Opening image: Whipping it up at Killington.