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Bolton's Nordic Ski Area May Not Survive a Sale

Local Matters


Published March 9, 2011 at 11:29 a.m.

During the 2009-10 ski season, Bolton Valley Nordic Center logged 10,000 skier visits, according to the center’s director, Liz Hollenbach.

Because of its elevation, Bolton Valley is blessed with early snow and the season sometimes extends into April. Plus, its proximity to Burlington and variety of terrain make it appealing to both novice and serious skiers.

A pending 1000-acre land sale could end all that, or at least transform the Bolton Valley Nordic Center from one of the largest cross-country ski areas in the state into one of the smallest.

Two weeks ago, Bolton Valley owner Redstone, a commercial real estate development company, announced plans to sell off a large parcel of property that encompasses 100 kilometers of trails — 30 of which are groomed. The preliminary agreement with the buyer does not require an easement for the Nordic Center, Redstone co-owner Larry Williams says, which means that the new owners would not be required to allow anyone to ski on their property. Williams declined to name the prospective buyer, though people with knowledge of the deal say they are out-of-staters with Vermont ties.

If the sale goes through, the resort’s Nordic offerings would be reduced to six kilometers of groomed trails. Maple Loop, Deer Run, Broadway and their offshoots would close. World Cup and Picnic, Valley and Pond loops — trails closest to the Nordic Center building — would remain open. Currently, only the Craftsbury Outdoor Center and Trapp Family Lodge offer more terrain than Bolton Valley.

The pending sale is part of a larger push by Redstone to sell off the entire resort, either as a whole or piecemeal. In December, the Burlington-based company announced it was putting the resort on the market. It recently entered into a five-year deal with The Essex Culinary Resort & Spa to lease the Ponds banquet and conference facility.

If Bolton sells, it would be the fifth time the Chittenden County ski area has changed hands since it was founded in 1966.

“Everyone knows the resort has struggled,” Williams says. “We’ve made remarkable progress in turning it around, and 2010 is the first year the resort has made a profit. It’s on a great path, because we’re running it like a business.”

Williams acknowledges that many of the people who use the Nordic ski trails will be disappointed, but that selling the parcel with easements for ski trails was not in the interest of Redstone’s other partners. Cross-country skiing, albeit less of it, will still be an option for the resort’s season-pass holders.

Currently, Redstone owns two separate parcels of land — a 676-acre swath that makes up the resort proper, and a 1900-acre piece on which the Nordic area sits. This proposed sale, and any future sale of the resort, will not affect the mountain’s Alpine operations.

Nor will it thwart access to Bolton’s famed backcountry and the Catamount Trail. In 2008, Redstone and its partners gifted a permanent trail easement to the nonprofit that maintains the 300-mile ski trail, guaranteeing a permanent path to it. Backcountry skiers will still be able to park in the Bolton Valley lot as long as they pay for a Nordic day pass.

Local Nordic and backcountry skiers concerned about the ramifications of the pending sale have already begun mobilizing. Ann Gotham, a ski patroller and backcountry enthusiast, is behind Friends of Bolton Nordic, a loosely knit group seeking to preserve the 94 kilometers of trails that are at risk. Volunteers have always been involved in maintaining the area.

“It would be a horrible shame to lose this incredible community resource,” Gotham says. “We are hoping that whoever the next owner is as well as future owners are of the mindset to conserve the land and permit our continued stewardship.”

Potential changes to the Nordic area would have an impact on local cross-country ski racing, too. Currently, Bolton Valley is the practice area for a number of ski teams and clubs including Essex and Burlington high schools, Northwest Vermont Nordic Ski Club and UVM’s top-ranked Nordic team. Damian Bolduc, who heads up the NWVT Nordic Ski Club, says it’s not uncommon to see teams from out of state training there in December.

“It has some of the most forgiving trails for beginners who need a lot of space and soft landings,” Bolduc writes in an email. “As you progress, the hilly terrain provides plenty of challenge.”

Williams predicts the Bolton sale will be completed some time in April. Until then, all the trails will remain open for public use.