Freedom, Unity, and Town-Owned Ski Hills

West Windsor, Vermont, joins short list of Northern New England municipalities that own public ski areas

The town of West Windsor, Vermont, will open a rope tow on February 6 that leads skiers up land once occupied by Ascutney Mountain Resort. The town, population 1,099, announced on December 15, 2015 the acquisition of 468 acres of the defunct resort, which opened in 1946 and closed in 2010.

The West Windsor town selectboard, comprised of three elected members, has ultimate control over and responsibility for the land, but a local nonprofit, Ascutney Outdoors, will manage day-to-day-operations of the public recreation venue.

Volunteers from the nonprofit recently installed a 1,000-foot rope tow on Screaming Eagle, the first trail cut on the 3,130-foot mountain back in 1938. The free tow accesses three runs on the north face as well as backcountry terrain. The nonprofit hopes to eventually install a chairlift and snowmaking.

Giddy-up! The rope tow will be open for public use Jan. 9. PHOTO: Felicity Knight
Giddy-up! The rope tow on Ascutney will be open for public use Saturday, Feb. 6 PHOTO: Felicity Knight

“Because the land is not owned by a private entity, we now know this land and trail system is not going anywhere. It is secure and sustainable,” Laura Farrell, the nonprofit’s executive director and founder of Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports, told SnoCountry.

The resort closed its doors in 2010 after 64 years of operation, a “blow to the hearts and spirits of the residents of West Windsor, the surrounding communities, and visitors from all over,” as the Ascutney Outdoors website reads.

“The joke in town used to be that you dropped your kids off at 8 in the morning and picked them up when they were 18,” Art Keating, a founding Ascutney Outdoors board member and an elementary school board chairman, told the Valley News in October.

West Windsor voters overwhelmingly approved efforts to purchase part of the former resort at an October 2014 town meeting. The municipality secured the land just over a year later for a cost of $915,000 with the help of the Trust for Public Land, a national conservation nonprofit.

“I’m smiling from ear to ear and saying, ‘Thank you. Thank you. Thank you [to the Trust],’” Farrell told the Vermont Standard.

With this land acquisition, West Windsor joins the ranks of a handful of small New England communities, like Lebanon and Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, that own and operate local ski areas with the help of volunteers. While growing up, Olympian Mikaela Shiffrin bashed slalom gates at Storrs Hill, which sits above downtown Lebanon. Mount Abenaki, in Wolfeboro, which former POWDER editor Derek Taylor profiled in the magazine’s October 2014 issue (43.2), claims the title of “America’s oldest small ski area.”