At 3,150 feet in elevation. Mt. Ascutney towers over the Connecticut River Valley along the border of Vermont and New Hampshire.
Early Skiing on Mt. Ascutney
Organized skiing on Mt. Ascutney dates back to at least the winter of 1935-36, when the CCC and Windsor Outing Club opened the Mt. Ascutney Trail. At 5,400 feet in length, this intermediate trail immediately captured the interest of skiers throughout the region, as did the nearly completed Ascutney auto road nearby.
A group of people including Catharine "Kip" Cushman, Bob Bishop, Dick Springer, Bob Ely, Robert Hammond, and Dr. Peter Patch worked together to get lift served skiing on Mt. Ascutney in 1946. Composed of tiered rope tows, two slopes, and a few trails, the Mt. Ascutney Slopes development was likely located at the present day bottom of the Brownsville Trail on Route 44. The ski area was considered a success, drawing crowds of 800 during the Christmas-New Year's holiday week in 1946-47.
Mt. Ascutney Proper Opens
For 1947-48, the rope tow operation was relocated west to the present location of Mt. Ascutney Resort. The improved operation included diesel rope tows, many new trails, night skiing, and snowcat served skiing (via a 3.5 mile ride in a Tucker machine on the other side of the mountain).
Another rope tow was added for the 1948-49 season. Poor snowfall resulted in a changing of the board.
The new base lodge in 1963
After another poor season in 1949-50, Ascutney found itself in bankruptcy for the first time. Cushman's brother, Percival Ranney, purchased the area and handed back over to Kip.
In 1955, George Dunning took over as manager of Ascutney for a season. Following 1955-56, Dunning apparently headed over to New Hampshire and attempted to open Ragged Mountain. Meanwhile, Ascutney was sold to John Howland.
Circa 1957, the Mt. Ascutney Ski Area, Inc. company was formed by Howland, with Walter Paine becoming the first outside shareholder. The capital injection funded significant improvements for the 1957-58 season, including a 2,250 foot T-Bar and Larchmont snowmaking equipment.
For 1959-60, Ascutney attempted to install a Larchmont chairlift in the vicinity of its novice area. Operating on a track, the lift was plagued with mechanical problems. After being marketed for the 1960-61 season, the lift quietly removed.
After narrowly avoiding bankruptcy, West Slope Area was developed for the 1962-63 season, served by a new T-Bar. Also around this time, Walter Paine (publisher of The Valley News), became principal owner in the ski area, keeping John Howland on as General Manager.
Ascutney's First Real Chairlift Debuts
Ascutney moved into the big leagues in 1963-64 when it expanded upward with a new Hall double chairlift, increasing the area's vertical drop from 620 to 1,470 feet. In addition, a novice T-Bar was added and a new lodge built.
For 1968-69, night skiing was expanded and a mid station added to the double chairlift, allowing for novices and intermediates to access easier terrain. In addition, the Novice T-Bar was relocated to a new slope between the double chairlift and Main T-Bar.
In 1970-71 the Sunrise Mountain area opened, featuring novice and intermediate terrain serviced by a new Hall double chairlift.
The Village Area in the 1980s
In September of 1972, it was announced that Walter Paine then sold the 820 acre ski area to a group led by John and Sarah Giles. The timing wasn't great for the new ownership, however, as a January 1973 thaw and a rough 1973-74 left the New England ski industry in bad shape. By March of 1974, Ascutney was "mortgaged to the hilt," according to Assistant Manager Bob Straw.
Apart from some real estate development, Ascutney ski area did not change much during the 1970s. After yet another rough winter, the Giles sold the ski area to Dr. Ronald Massa in July of 1981 for an estimated $1.35 million.
The subsequent seasons proved to be difficult as well. In March of 1983, The Mt. Ascutney Ski Area Corp. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, with some $2 million of debt (as compared to $2.5 million of listed assets).
That summer, a group named Summit Ventures, Inc. purchased Ascutney for an estimated $1.5 million and began an aggressive 10 year investment plan. The main shareholders included Joseph Grano Jr., Lou Guido, Daniel Tully, and Ira Lampert.
In conjunction with the development of 100 condos, big changes took place on the ski area in 1984-85. Two new triple chairlifts were installed, expanding the ski area downward to the new Village Area. In addition, significant investments were made in snowmaking and grooming.
For 1986-87, the summit double chairlift was upgraded to a triple, giving Ascutney a top to bottom modern lift system. In October of 1986, the Tax Reform Act of 1986 was signed, resulting in a change in deductions for real estate investments. According to the ownership, this started a downward spiral.
The Gateway trail (2005)
Bankruptcy and Closure
By the end of the decade, some $65 million had been invested in Ascutney. With debts mounting, Ascutney filed for bankruptcy protection in April of 1990. While the area was able to operate during 1990-91, creditors forced it into liquidation that spring.
By the end of 1991, wounds were only getting worse. The town of West Windsor was owed $350,000 in back taxes, accounting for near a year's budget. Details of lavish expense accounts also emerged, such as nearly a half million dollars spent on travel and entertainment (including private jet flights) by ownership during the late 1980s.
Reopening and Expansion
In June of 1993, Steve and Susan Plausteiner purchased Ascutney at auction for $1.1 million, beating the owners of Smugglers Notch and an equipment liquidator. Ascutney reopened in December of 1991.
A five year investment plan started in the middle of the decade with an initial focus on snowmaking and base facility improvements. Also around that time, the Plausteiners attempted to go public with their Snowdance company. With some of the $13 million in funds they hoped to raise, the Plausteiners hoped to purchase and reopen Hogback in southern Vermont. The IPO was dropped circa 1998.
In 2000, $3 million was invested, including a new high speed detachable quad. Capping the five year expansion campaign, the new North Peak development resulted in nearly 300 more vertical feet of terrain above the top of the triple chairlift. Unfortunately, debt was growing.
The abandoned base lodge (2012)
By 2008, Dan Purjes' MFW Associates was commencing foreclosure proceedings on the ski area, citing $1.86 million in debt and $917 per day in interest charges. Two years later, the Plausteiners sold their share in Ascutney to Purjes, who then unsuccessfully attempted to liquidate the area that summer. That fall, word spread that Ascutney would not operate in 2010-2011.
In early 2011, Burke looked to have a $1.55 million deal in place to purchase the high speed quad. Removal costs resulted in Burke backing out and instead purchasing a brand new lift.
In early 2012, Crotched Mountain, NH announced it had purchased the high speed quad. The refurbished lift debuted as the "Crotched Rocket" in December of 2012.
While the fixed grip chairlifts remained in place at Ascutney in 2012, the area sat idle for the third winter in a row.