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Lyall and his trail-building crew are part of a long outdoors tradition in West Windsor. The Ascutney Mountain Asso- ciation is one of the oldest hiking societies in the country, founded here in 1903. The Civilian Conservation Corps cut the first ski trail down the mountain in 1935; the first rope tow went up about ten years later.

But winter is fickle at these latitudes. Situated east of the main spine of the Green Mountains, Ascutney doesn’t always get enough snow for a full ski season. Following two bad years in a row, the resort made its first bankruptcy claim around 1950—the first of what would be many over the de- cades to follow. Locals learned to live with the ebb and flow of business as the ski hill closed, changed hands, and reopened again and again.

Glenn Seward was the chair of West Windsor’s city council, the selectboard, when the resort shut its doors in 2010. He managed operations at the ski hill in the 1980s and had seen the mountain change hands several times before—so he reck- oned (or at least hoped) it would reopen. But as the seasons passed, a new and unwelcome possibility entered his head: what if Ascutney was closed for good? After foreclosing on the bankrupt resort, the lender ex- plored various options for recouping its investment—includ- ing a members-only ski club. When that option didn’t check out, the lender began gutting the ski hill, selling off equip- ment to other businesses. “Once we saw the lift towers coming off the mountain, it really got our attention,” says Seward. “We saw the likelihood of commercial skiing at Ascutney vanish.”

The ripple effect of the resort’s closure spread quickly to other local businesses. Rich Thomas had opened Paradise Sports, a bike and ski shop, in 2008—only to face the market crash in 2009 and the resort’s closure a year later. He watched the flow of winter customers slow to a trickle. “As a small business, if people aren’t heading up the mountain, we see that impact pretty fast,” he explains.

Home values around the base of Ascutney fell as much as 60 percent, dealing a blow to the town’s tax base. But anyone in West Windsor will tell you the loss cut deeper than jobs and revenue—the mountain is part of their identity, a place for the community to come together.

“There was such a sadness when the mountain closed this last time,” says longtime resident Laura Stillson. “We’d been through closures before, but this time it was dismantled. It looked for a long time that there was absolutely no hope for it to ever be a ski area again.” Worse than the sting of the resort’s closure was the prospect that the land might be developed or clear-cut. “We were hearing mention of a salvage timber harvest around the property. That would have destroyed the landscape that we’re so fond of,” Seward says. The town was getting desperate. “We needed to stabilize property values, secure the trail system, and keep some sort of recreational activity in West Windsor. We had to do something about Ascutney.” That’s when they had a crazy idea …

what if we bought it?

TPL.ORG · 55

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