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. email@example.com