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Comeback Mountain I

n 2010, Mount Ascutney shut down its lifts. Now, thanks to a group of locals, it is on its way to becoming one of Vermont's hottest destinations for mountain biking and back country skiing. By EVAN JOHNSON


n a part of Vermont known for gentle, rolling hills and pastures, the 3,130-foot high Mount Ascutney erupts out of the landscape like some kind of waking giant. Its steep slopes are a riot of green, tinged with autumn’s first reds and golds. Etched into its flanks are the outlines of ski trails. Time has not been kind to the defunct ski area. It has been five years since the bullwheels turned and the last remaining lift, a rusty double, sits idle in the hot air. Above the parking lot looms the scorched hulk of a former base lodge, which caught fire on

a frigid night last January. But on this August day, the parking lot is packed. Kegs of Long Trail are tapped and flowing, the meatballs at the food truck are ready and a golden retriever flaunts a stolen frisbee. It’s the kind of summer afternoon in West Windsor when everyone hopes to sneak out of work early to enjoy a ride in the woods. For the 400 mountain bikers arriving from seven states for the Eighth Annual Vermont Mountain Bike Festival, that’s precisely the plan. Tom Stuessy, president of the Vermont Mountain Biking Associa-

tion (VMBA), which organizes the annual festival, glances up at the hulking remains of the base lodge. The collapsing roof and shattered windows make for one hell of an eyesore, but he doesn’t mind. “It looks ugly, it’s awful, but it’s a sign of changing times,” he says. “There’s a network of multi-use trails here and they are going to be here forever," he contines. "It’s a special story.” Nearby, sitting on a folding camp chair in the shade, Tom Galloway from Mt. Holly, Vt. sips a Guinness and wrangles a friendly springer


spaniel pup named Pugsley (named after bike manufacturer Surly’s premier fatbike). Having ridden in the Vermont 50 for 14 of the 20 years the 50-mile cross country bike race has been held, Galloway has more than just a weekend warrior’s familiarity with the West Windsor area trails. “Ascutney’s like a mini-Burke,” he says. “We’ve got 45 miles of trails with some killer climbs and some sweet downhill.” And when the snow falls, the mountain presents a different kind of playground: “It’s got the steeps, it’s got easy-access and it’s close to


Vermont Sports, September 2015