Several years ago I read an article about all the little mom-and-pop ski areas now out of business. The article was written with a nod towards nostalgia, a sigh of whimsy and a little bit of angst. Is our sport dying, I wondered at the time.
Not according to the recent NSAA report on growth. Not according to recent record numbers of skier visits. But is skiing going the way of the local hardware store, getting swallowed by Home Depot and Lowes? Are all the small areas located near big population centers giving up the ghost? If so, what does that mean for the future of sliding on snow? Will it merely become one yearly trip to a big resort where all our needs are met, whether they be perfectly groomed pistes, pedicures or prime rib dinners? I think we need small ski areas–ones with slow chairs, low ticket prices and plenty of learn-t0-ski terrain.
While John and I spent that dark time in Minnesota at the Mayo Clinic, we decided one sunny July day, when he was feeling pretty good, to drove out to Steeplechase, a little mom-and-pop ski area in the middle of corn fields. The corn ended at the top of the ski area. The now-rusting bullwheels of four decent lifts sat motionless. Below that the slopes dove into a pretty steep ravine creating the 240 feet of vertical claimed on the now-defunct trail map. The ski area was bankrupt and wouldn’t be opening the following winter. It was a real shame.
With the surge in backcountry skiers, I imagine that some of the angst felt over lost ski areas might be dwindling. Free the old areas to those willing to earn their turns, they might say. While I love to backcountry ski as much as the next patroller, I also love ski areas. Real ones. With lifts and bathrooms, fireplaces and cool bars with shotskis hanging from the rafters.
Facilities are good for bc enthusiasts as well. Who doesn’t want a cold draft beer after skinning all day? After all, a warm Snorting Elk fire beats a warm beer pulled from the back of a Toyota pickup any day. Many ski areas in the West (Crystal Mountain most notably) offer the best of both worlds–nearby skinning opportunities starting from the plowed parking lot and close to the bathrooms.
Much to my recent pleasure, several almost-lost ski areas are being resurrected. I recently wrote about Manitoba, but that area doesn’t really count as almost-lost. It’s been closed for 40 years. I’m talking here about less than ten-year closed areas that almost died but didn’t. I’m talking about close calls and miraculous recoveries. I’m talking about Cinderella stories here.
Here are a few recent ones:
- Maple Valley Ski Resort, Vermont: New Englanders are nostalgic for lost ski areas. In fact the New England Lost Ski Areas Project (click here for website) is a treasure trove of
information about bygone areas, small areas still in operation, and their crowning glory: lost areas now found. Maple Valley has been found. You can almost hear the hallelujahs being sung from the top of the 1017 foot vertical drop. With two double chairlifts and a T-Bar, as well as a base lodge and night lighting, this ski area is poised to open as a four-season resort. For more information, check out First Tracks!! online’s story here.
- Little Switzerland, Wisconsin: Closed since 2007, this 200 foot vertical ski area plans to reopen next winter. Details are sketchy on this one, and the website isn’t live yet. But First Tracks!! broke the story last week. More details here.
- Eagle Point Ski Resort, Beaver, Utah: What was once the defunct Elk Meadows Ski Area re-opened last year as Eagle Point Ski
Resort. When new investors first bought the closed ski area, they put forth a controversial plan to build a private resort with a Jack Nicklaus designed golf course. It didn’t go over well with the locals. So the investors changed course and built the more modest Eagle Point instead. Located in Southern Utah, the area has 4 lifts and 1,400 feet of vertical. Check out there website here.
- Hickory Ski Area, NY opened under new ownership last year, with 12o4 feet of vertical and surface-only lifts. Click here for the website.
These aren’t the only resurrections and close calls. And for every one listed here, dozens continue to rust and grow over, ashes to ashes. What do you think of the fate of mom-and-pops? Not just in skiing, but hardware stores, local grocers, butchers, coffee shops (don’t get me started on that one)? Should we let these aging oldies die off or join the chorus of cheers when they re-open, limp along and continue to offer that small, family-owned vibe that existed where most of us learned to ski?