Roped In

SKI - - CONNECT -

than slid­ing down a snowy moun­tain. It al­ways has been. And it al­ways will be. For re­cent proof, head to two tiny com­mu­ni­ties in south­ern Ver­mont, tucked in tight by the New Hamp­shire bor­der.

West Wind­sor (pop­u­la­tion: 1,099) and neigh­bor­ing Brownsville (pop­u­la­tion: 561) are cer­tainly small in num­bers but big in the burly New Eng­land can-do at­ti­tude found in Eastern skiers—who ar­guably do more with less than skiers in any other re­gion.

A lo­cal ski club cut the first trail on Mount As­cut­ney in 1938, with the epony­mous ski area open­ing a few years later, dur­ing ski­ing’s postwar boom. At its peak, As­cut­ney Moun­tain Re­sort boasted five lifts serv­ing a ro­bust 1,800 ver­ti­cal feet. The lifts were sold off after the re­sort was shut­tered in 2010.

But As­cut­ney Moun­tain is back from the grave. In an ad­mirable pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ship—in­clud­ing the Trust for Pub­lic Lands, the non­profit As­cut­ney Out­doors, and lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties—a rope tow was in­stalled, and opened late last win­ter. It will open again when the Ver­mont snow falls this sea­son.

The rope tow runs up the moun­tain about 800 feet, with a ver­ti­cal drop of all of 170 feet. But the key num­ber here is zero. “The rope tow is free,” says Laura Far­rell, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of As­cut­ney Out­doors. “And we’ll keep it free.” An­other key num­ber is 100, which was the num­ber of skiers on “a pretty good day” last sea­son.

As­cut­ney was a le­git­i­mate re­sort at its peak, and its le­git­i­mate ter­rain, ver­ti­cal, and, per­haps most sig­nif­i­cant, pas­sion­ate com­mu­nity re­main. The New Eng­land Lost Ski Ar­eas Project calls it “the most ad­vanced lost ski area in New Eng­land.”

“It’s a good moun­tain—a tough moun­tain,” says Far­rell. “When it gets snow it’s fab­u­lous.”

Plans call for in­stal­la­tion of a sur­face lift next sea­son, fi­nances per­mit­ting. Launch­ing a race pro­gram is an­other goal.

The vi­sion is big, though the op­er­a­tion is—for the mo­ment—small. The tow runs Wed­nes­days, Fri­days, week­ends, and hol­i­days. Or­ga­niz­ers are look­ing at in­stalling lights and stay­ing open on Fri­day and Satur­day nights—which might be one of the best ex­pan­sion plans we’ve heard of lately.

Yes, a $15 lift ticket or sea­son-pass pro­gram is un­der dis­cus­sion if ad­di­tional lifts go in. “The goal is to make the moun­tain sus­tain­able,” Far­rell says. Even back­coun­try fans will like the setup. Con­ser­va­tion re­stric­tions ban lifts slightly above the re­sort’s old mid­sta­tion. Be­yond that, the old trails will be main­tained for the hike-and­hoot crowd.

OFar­rell ad­mits that some­times the com­mu­nity’s pas­sion trumped its pa­tience. “We took a risk last year when vol­un­teers built the rope tow be­fore the land was even ac­quired.” But given that the tow did open last sea­son, that bit of moxie can now be viewed sim­ply as smart time man­age­ment.

Far­rell sees the rope tow as the first step in cre­at­ing a multi-use recre­ational hub for the com­mu­nity. The next steps are outreach pro­grams, such as with lo­cal schools, to bring non-skiers onto the snow. To that end, she’s work­ing with lo­cal ski shops for low-cost rental gear and free les­sons.

“In Ver­mont, you want win­ter sports ac­ces­si­ble to ev­ery­one,” Far­rell says. “The win­ters are long and cold here.”

I’ll ven­ture a guess that when the free As­cut­ney rope tow is whirling through kids’ gloves and mit­tens again this sea­son, the win­ter will feel a lot shorter and a lot warmer.

Here in our shop, the SKI crew proudly feels that our an­nual re­sort is­sue is the best roundup in the in­dus­try of what’s hap­pen­ing at just about ev­ery ma­jor area. It’s a great read. Start at your fa­vorite and work for­ward and back­ward through the re­views.

The mas­sive re­search be­hind this an­nual is­sue re­minds us that whether you’re be­ing pulled up an 800-foot rope tow in West Wind­sor, Vt., or rid­ing 2.7 miles in a gon­dola be­tween the Whistler and Black­comb peaks, ski­ing is about a whole lot more than slid­ing down a snowy moun­tain. It al­ways has been. And it al­ways will be. En­joy the is­sue. gditrinco@skimag.com

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