By Nancy Nutile-McMenemy, Standard Correspondent
On Sunday, Ascutney Outdoors (AO), a nonprofit organization formed in 2015, held a meeting at Story Memorial Hall in West Windsor for the community to ask questions about what AO has accomplished regarding Mount Ascutney and what they have planned for the future of the ski area. About 85 concerned citizens attended.
Board Chair Steve Crihfield, who taught his three sons to ski on Mount Ascutney, recapped the milestones met in 2016. A warming hut was built and opened, they received their Act 250 permits for the hut and for lights at the rope tow for night skiing – “Anyone there for the holiday New Years weekend, it (skiing) was fantastic” – and they purchased the burned out base lodge from MFW Associates.
During a recent outdoor planning meeting at the base lodge, Crihfield said the board collectively decided “we really can’t do anything until we take that (the base lodge) down.” The demolition will start Feb. 6 following asbestos remediation beginning on Monday, Jan 23. “It’s really a new chapter (for us).”
He went on to tell the crowd that no taxpayer money was used. AO worked closely with Orange Lakes-Holiday Inn Club Vacations Mount Ascutney Resort, who provided a “very generous donation,” a grant from the Regional Planning Commission, and contributions from individuals.
The board plans to enhance all the outdoor activities around Mount Ascutney including alpine skiing, mountain biking, and hiking. Following the demolition of the base lodge they plan to put up a “base camp” on the west side of the old lodge. The board is seeking funding from various foundations who are interested in Mount Ascutney because of the variety of outdoor activities offered. “Once we own something, we have to operate it,” said Crihfield, “we don’t want to repeat what’s happened four times before, we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.” The board is planning for long term sustainability.
Ted Siegler spoke to the crowd about the lodge and the warming hut. “That warming hut is on conservation easement land and that is not where you want to have a warming hut. OK. Because it’s on conservation easement land, anytime you want to make any change to it, you’ve got to go to Upper Valley Land Trust, Vermont Housing and Conservation Board and ask for their permission to improve it. The burned out base lodge property is private property owned by Ascutney Outdoors and doesn’t have any of those restrictions.”
Siegler went on to explain, “We’re in the process with some pretty heated negotiations with Upper Valley Land Trust right now about the language for what the management plan is going to be. It’s just the wrong place to have a building that you want to run for a long term period without having all this oversight from an outside group.”
Lee Alexander was called on and voiced her opinion about the proposed base camp to be sighted on the old bas lodge property, “To me you have to have a spark, you have to have a base. And if you’re going to have outside events coming in, why not go with a big enough building that’s going to have some future to it. So I’m all for it.”
“I started skiing at Ascutney 60 years,” said Connie Moser, “and probably will not be able to continue to ski there but in the spirit of John Howland, who was one of the movers and shakers that looked at that mountain and saw opportunity for this community, I think that the people who are really engaged in this process are sort of coming into the spirit of John and are looking at what is and seeing what could be. And yes I want skiing to be a part of it but I hear about these other opportunities, we can’t go back to the way it was, as much as we’d like to. But I think that we can move forward and have something that is going to bring vitality back to this community, to the mountain and a lot of joy to life. And so I really hope that we work together to make that happen.”
Skiing on Mount Ascutney dates back to the 1930s. In 1946 a ski lift was in place thanks to the hard work of Catharine “Kip” Cushman, Bob Bishop, Dick Springer, Bob Ely, Robert Hammond, and Dr. Peter Patch. Over the years, ownership of the resort and ski area has changed hands many times.
In June of 1993, Steve and Susan Plausteniner purchased Ascutney at auction for $1.1 million. But by 2008, Dan Purjes’s MFW Associates began foreclosure proceedings sighting $1.86 million in debt. In 2010, The Plausteiners sold their shares in Ascutney to Purjes who attempted to liquidate the ski area that summer unsuccessfully. The ski area was reported auctioned to MFW Associates for $1.5 million in early November 2013.
In October of 2014 the Town of West Windsor voted to purchase 469 acres of Ascutney as well as the land around the base lodge. On Jan. 8, 2015 the base lodge was destroyed by fire and has remained as a burned out shell since.
Ascutney Outdoors, a non-profit group, formed in 2015 acquired the bulk of the ski area property with the help of Upper Valley Land Trust that holds a conservation easement on this property.
On Dec. 18, 2016 the lodge was purchased from MFW Associates by Ascutney Outdoors. AO will oversee the asbestos remediation and demolition of the building, which begins on Jan. 23 with the building’s demolition on Feb. 6
This article first appeared in the January 26, 2017 edition of the Vermont Standard.