the Ascutney area, Seward says he was plagued with the allegations since the start of the project. The accusations became louder when he and his wife went before the town with a plan to establish a nonprofit that would oversee the skiing and trails in the town forest in conjunction with STAB. Even though the critics made up a small minority, Seward decided to remove himself from the discussion. He resigned from the town selectboard, where he had served as chairman for the past five years, stopped researching the non-
profit, dissolved a stewardship fund that would have managed the area and closed recreational trails on his property. In his March 23 resignation letter, Seward said his integrity and character had been questioned during the process. “It got to the point where it was not worth it to us anymore to spend hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of our time and a considerable amount of money to do this when our motives were being questioned,” he says. “We felt it was best for us to step aside and let someone else take the lead.”
A new, non-profit resort.
While Seward stepped aside, the town and TPL moved forward to try to raise $905,000 to purchase the area. So far, TPL has secured $780,000 in grants and donations, the first $1,500 of which came from Burlington outfitter and online retailer Outdoor Gear Exchange as part of its OGE Charitable Grant Fund. The organization has received another $112,000 in individual donations and hopes to raise the remaining $23,000 by the end of September. If so, it can close on the deal by the end of 2015.
Picking up where the Sewards left off is volunteer Laura Farrell, who is setting up a new non-profit, Mount Ascutney Outdoors, to manage the ski trails. A retired distance runner, Farrell helped organize the Vermont 50 and the Vermont 100, two legendary long distance bike and running races that start and finish in West Windsor pastures. Farrell wants to see a community ski area with a similar operating structure to Cochran’s Ski Area in Richmond, where she works as an event coordinator, fundraiser and grant writer. STAB will manage the mountain bike trails. Starting this winter, Farrell and others hope to have a rope-tow running from the base area to what had been the mid-station near the top of the mountain. The current plan is to leave the uppermost third of the mountain open to backcountry skiing while the bottom two thirds of the mountain will be managed as a non-profit ski area. The uppermost portion of the mountain would be accessible to hikers willing to skin or hike. Portions of the expanded town forest would be maintained for dispersed backcountry skiing. “We want to get people excited again,” Farrell says. While tickets to ski resorts in the state can run near $100 for an adult and much more for the entire family, Farrell wants to keep lift tickets and passes to the revived Mount Ascutney much cheaper. “The goal is to make it a community ski area that will be affordable to anybody and everybody.” Her committee includes Jim Lyall, who will maintain the trails for skiing and biking and STAB has Act 250 approval to cut five more trails next year.
THE LITTLE MOUNTAIN THAT COULD A BRIEF HISTORY OF ASCUTNEY’S UPS AND DOWNS.
1935: The Civilian Conservation Corps and the Windsor Outing Club cut the first trail on Mount Ascutney, nearly 5,400 feet in length. It parallels what will become a summit road.
1946: Catherine “Kip” Cushman and a group
install two rope tows and several trails. The mountain is deemed a success and draws hundreds of skiers over the Christmas holiday.
1949: After a poor winter, Ascutney is bankrupt. Kip Cushman’s brother buys the area and turns it back over to his sister.
1957: John Howland buys the area and puts in a Tbar and snowmaking.
1963: Walter Paine buys the area in 1962. A new base lodge is built and a chairlift is added, allowing skiers access to the upper part of the mountain.
1983: After changing hands several times, the resort
A gem to treasure.
files for bankruptcy. Summit Ventures buys it
In the old ski area parking lot, the flow of traffic continues as the setting sun stretches shadows across the grass. In its second year at Ascutney, VMBA fest has nearly doubled in size. Sitting under the extendable awning of their Econoline 350 RV, Mark and Barbara Tucker enjoy the sunshine and some ice cream sandwiches with their two kids. The family drove from Sheffield, Vt. for the weekend and say the two-hour long drive was worth it. “Biking is a lifetime sport,” says Tucker. "You can start when you’re knee-high and keep riding when you’re 90. There are always people doing it or you can go out and do it by yourself. But the thing that brings people together are trails like this.” While everyone appreciates the outside traffic and notoriety VMBA has brought to Mount Ascutney, as VMBA president Stuessy says, “The most impressive thing that I’ve seen is the passion at the local level. Everybody recognizes what a gem they have here in their backyard.”
for $1.5 million and invests more than $65 million to build condos, add lifts and improve snowmaking.
1990: Summit Ventures Inc. files for bankruptcy protection.
1993: New Yorkers Steve and Susan Plausteiner buy Ascutney for $1.1 million and the following winter, relaunch the resort. 2002: Curt Warren sets a hang-gliding record for Ascutney by gliding from its summit 131.6 miles south to Connecticut, sealing the mountain’s reputation as a premiere launch site.
2006: Sports Trails of the Ascutney Basin (STAB) is founded with the idea of building recreational trails for skiing and mountain biking.
2008: Foreclosure proceedings start, with bids coming in to buy the lifts from Burke, Crotched Mountain and Pat’s Peak in New Hampshire.
2010: The Plausteiners' primary lender, New York investment bank MFW Associates takes possession of the resort. The mountain is closed for the season.
2011: STAB, in cooperation with the town and with the permission of MFW begins developing trails around the former resort. 2013: The Vermont Mountain Bike Association holds its annual gathering at Ascutney. The event is such a success, VMBA Fest returns in 2014 and by 2015 attracts more than 400 participants.
2013: That fall, The Trust for Public Land and the town of West Windsor begin to develop a plan to add the resort to the existing town forest.
2014: Residents cast ballots on the proposed deal. It passes 254-79. 2015: TPL secures $780,000 in grants and donations and hopes to close the deal by the end of the year. 2016: Skiing and riding may return to Mount Ascutney. SEPTEMBER 2015