Local Vision And A Rope Tow: Mount Ascutney, Once Shuttered, Gets New Life

Nov 2, 2016

The resort on Mount Ascutney closed down in 2010 due to financial difficulties, but skiers can now return to the mountain, thanks to the efforts of a local nonprofit that’s been working to revitalize the area.

After residents in West Windsor approved a plan for the select board to purchase the land, the non-profit Ascutney Outdoors formed to manage and develop the recreational opportunities on the mountain.

Alex Kaufman, host of the Wintry Mix podcast, spoke with VPR about the efforts to bring skiing back to Mount Ascutney.

VPR: In the most recent episode of Wintry Mix, you visited Mount Ascutney and spoke with the executive director of Mount Ascutney Outdoors. What's that organization about and what are they doing?

Kaufman: “A about a year and a half ago, a group of primarily locals … decided to take matters into their own hands a bit and chase down some grant money and try to four-season recreation happen again on Mount Ascutney, regardless of outside ownership.

Wintry Mix is a podcast about the people, places and issues of the winter economy.

"And because they were able to bring together some land grants and really use their elbow grease, they now have expanding trail networks that are for four-season use [and] not just skiing. Obviously we're headed into the winter season and they're really excited about the rope tow they built last year and the backcountry skiing opportunities, but mountain biking, hiking and things like that will also play a big role."

Are people in the ski and snowboard community generally aware of what's happening at Mount Ascutney?

"I think yes and no. Certain segments are very aware — segments that really tend towards the human-powered version of recreation, whether that be mountain biking or uphill skiing, backcountry skiing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing. They seem to be very aware. So that network of people are really tuned in and have already been taking advantage.

Explore the archives of the Wintry Mix podcast

"I think the resort skiing crowd a little bit less so, and it may or may not be exactly their cup of tea. The idea of riding a rope tow and hiking for turns is really exciting for one segment of people and becoming more exciting for the other. So I think it really depends on who you talk to."

Why do you think people are working so hard to bring this mountain back?

"We're seeing that sort of thing happen in other states where you have corporate resorts that are unsustainable ... and then the local communities ... saying, 'Could we figure out a way to create a co-op or a community action that gets this off the ground in some shape or form?' Maybe not one that is trying to fill hotels, but at least give local school kids somewhere to go and ski in the afternoon.

"The idea of riding a rope tow and hiking for turns is really exciting for one segment of people and becoming more exciting for the other." - Alex Kaufman, Wintry Mix host

"So it's something that that's just kind of popped up here, and there are certain mountains aren't necessarily sustainable for one model — the destination resort model — but maybe are sustainable for a more local, smaller-footprint model."

Have the officials there talked to you about what their expectations are for this revitalization effort?

"I don't think they necessarily know exactly the answer to that. Obviously they have launched a nonprofit so they can take donations, [and] the access to the trails is free at this time, [so] this winter you're going to able to go and ride that rope tow and ski the backcountry ski trails for free — you know, pending snow.

"So I don't know if they necessarily have a long-term revenue model. I think they want to have it be able to be successful based on volunteer efforts and donations, and then if and when they're able to, install an additional lift and upgrade their services. Maybe they'll kind of upgrade their revenue model as well. But at this time I think they're really just trying to get the momentum going, get people on the mountain and work that donation model as best they can."