In an era of multi-million dollar mergers and acquisitions in the ski industry, it's sometimes easy to forget where many people learn to ski: a local hill that may have a single chairlift, or sometimes just a rope tow. Called "breeder" ski areas by some, these small ski areas don't make headlines, have limited operating budgets, and often live and die according to each season's snowpack. So what does it matter if local hills can't compete in today's ski world? A whole generation of kids won't grow up sliding on snow, and that's bad for an aging ski industry that needs new blood to survive. Tiny Brattleboro, Vermont is a picture-perfect arts community tucked in the southeastern corner of the state. The town also boasts a well-loved community ski hill run by an all-volunteer, non-profit organization called Living Memorial Snow Sports, Inc.. Forget $129 lift tickets, heated gondolas, and expensive lodging, this is skiing at its purest. With a single ski tow and $5 lift tickets, the Living Memorial Park ski hill is where children become lifelong skiers, and it's a ski area worth fighting for.
Brattleboro's ski hill first opened to the public in 1938 as the "Guilford Street Ski Tow," and operated an 1,100 foot rope tow that could handle 300 skiers per hour. An all-day ticket cost 35 cents and a year later the ski area added lights so that the tow could run three nights each week. In 1957, the current Dopplemayer T-bar lift was installed and the town began running the operation. Undependable snowfall and financial troubles caused the hill to close in 1995, but a new non-profit reopened the hill in 1997 because they hated to see the community treasure sit idle.
Today, kids under 5 ski free and a day lift ticket is only $5. An individual season pass costs only $75, and the ski hill runs from Thursday to Friday under the lights and all-day Saturday and Sunday, conditions permitting.
But despite its beloved status in town, the Brattleboro ski hill has to fight to stay alive. In December, 2014, the ski area's groomer broke. The hill couldn't open without a working groomer, so organizers took out a $30,000, 10-year loan to buy a new groomer from Bristol Mountain Ski Resort near Rochester, N.Y. Now, Living Memorial Snow Sports will pay about $300 per month until the loan is paid off. A record-breaking 3,300 lift tickets sold this year will likely help cover some of the costs, as will the profits from the occasional fundraisers hosted by the hill. A Go Fund Me campaign has also been started to help defray the price of the new groomer. But this type of survival is precarious.
It's mind-boggling that in Aspen, a family of four can easily spend $30,000 on their annual ski trip, while that same amount would singlehandedly keep a ski area like Living Memorial Park in business another season. And the impact of Brattleboro's tiny hill is hard to quantify. How do you calculate the benefits of children skiing after school each day? Or the knowledge gained when Mt. Snow's ski instructors volunteer their time at Living Memorial Park to teach kids to ski? If Brattleboro's ski hill becomes part of the 31% of ski areas predicted to close in the next few years, how do you calculate what is lost to the ski community and its future?
Tell us, Curberdiverse, where did you learn to ski? A tiny hill in Vermont? A man-made mountain in Michigan? What does your local ski hill mean to you?
· Living Memorial Park Snow Sports [Official Site]
· Living Memorial Park Snow Groomer [Go Fund Me]
· Raising money for a groomer [Brattleboro Reformer]
· Living Memorial Park Snow Sports [Facebook]
· Ski Industry Expert Says 31% of Today's Ski Areas Are Dying [Curbed Ski]
· How to Save the Future of Skiing: Let Kids Ski For Free [Curbed Ski]
· Inside the Fight to Reopen Wyoming's Antelope Butte Ski Area [Curbed Ski]
· Mapping the 12 Best Community Ski Hills in the West [Curbed Ski]