Promising Start to the Year

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Happy New Year.  We are really looking forward to 2016.  While 2015 got off to a great start, the later part of the year was a disappointment.  The ski season began on Thanksgiving Day and while we were able to remain open for skiing every day, December disappointed. 

When the thermometer at the base recorded 62 degrees on Christmas Day, I asked a few veterans if they had ever seen a worse December. “Oh yes,” one said. “Stein Eriksen arrived to take over the ski school in December of 1964.  When he arrived, he looked around and said, ‘where’s the snow?’  That Christmas, we played tennis on the outdoor courts.” 

Winter did come that year, and it is already returning this year.   Thanks to a couple of really good snowmaking days, we have been able to expand terrain at both Lincoln Peak and Mt. Ellen and now have 45 trails and top-to-bottom skiing on both sides.   It is not ideal, of course, but I am really proud of my mountain team for making the best of the dismal conditions Mother Nature presented us with this December.  A number of people have skied around the Northeast and have complimented us on our relative conditions.  The decision to make good depth has allowed us to “weather the storm” and set us up for some terrain expansion over the next couple of weeks.  The forecast is looking much more favorable.  After a one-day pause on Wednesday, snowmaking resumed New Year’s Eve, and it looks like we have many days ahead of us to keep the guns on and compliment that with some natural snow in the forecast.  At Lincoln Peak, we have prioritized getting the rest of Lower Jester and Lower Organgrinder dialed in to have an alternative to Downspout as a way down.  We will then attempt to get Upper Snowball and Spring Fling open so we can run our new Valley House Quad.  After that, depending on the temperatures, we will either look at Birdland and Murphy’s Glade or complete the trails on the Gate House side.  At Mt. Ellen, we resumed snowmaking on Elbow and Lookin’ Good, and are also putting down more snow on Inverness for GMVS.  We will then look to get Joe’s Cruiser and focus on the terrain park.  With our new low-energy snow guns and the right temperatures, we can be putting out around 5,800 gallons per minute, which is sufficient to cover over 40 acres in one foot of snow in a 24-hour period.  Thus, in a week to ten days--if Mother Nature cooperates --we could be in great shape, and that would be a happy start indeed to the New Year.

Unfortunately, 2015 ended with some sadness.  One of our lift mechanics passed away suddenly just before Christmas.  We will miss Dana greatly. He was a terrific employee of ours and well-liked and respected by his peers.

Then, just last week, Sugarbush and the ski industry lost a legend – Stein Eriksen.  Stein ran our ski school for a few years in the 1960’s, and really helped put Sugarbush on the map.  A gymnast before becoming an Olympic medal winner, Stein used to thrill the guests of Sugarbush with his Sunday flips at the bottom of Stein’s Run.  We were very fortunate to have Stein return for our 45th birthday in 2003. He also sent us a video greeting for our 50th birthday, along with a signed photo of himself, which hangs in the Castlerock Pub.  I last saw Stein for lunch at Deer Valley a few years ago.  He was still the gracious and elegant person he has always been and spoke fondly of Sugarbush and his many friends here. This spring we will be inaugurating a new event called Stein’s Challenge. It will be held on Saturday, April 9th and will be a fun contest for all ages that involves making numerous laps on Stein’s Run.

Unfortunately, just after Christmas, another Mad River Valley legend passed away.  Jack Lonsdale had just turned 81 and in recent years was probably known to most as the affable bartender at Chez Henri. Jack grew up in New York City, attended the prestigious St. Paul’s School, and then Harvard.  While working at Citibank, Damon Gadd recruited Jack to chaperone the “Sugarbus Special”—a chartered Greyhound “party bus” that originated at Citibank headquarters on Park Avenue and made several stops in the city, bringing the glitterati to Sugarbush for the weekend.  After a few years, Jack decided he would rather be a professional ski bum than a banker and moved full time to the Mad River Valley. Jack worked at Sugarbush as a ski instructor under Sigi Grottendorfer  (as well as in Portillo) and tended bar at many of the restaurants over the years, including Sugarbush.  Jack also read the New York Post daily and was a gem to sit next to when off-duty at the bar.  Jack was a joy to know and he will be greatly missed by so many of us in the Valley. 

For the New Year, we are all wishing that the Farmer’s Almanac’s prediction of a cold and snowy winter will come true.  Very often a slow start becomes a great back-loaded winter, and the signs are beginning to suggest that.  Rest assured that our team here is stoked for the next four months of skiing and riding and will be doing all that we can to make it a great one for you.