1.5-3 feet of wind blown powder, very little base, difficult to make turns on a regular board
Note: I debated whether or not to post about this "secret" stash. I figure that educating people on a ski area rich in history that is facing an unceremonious end was more important than protecting a secret. I mean no one went there when the lifts did turn and there is plenty of terrain to support the very small backcountry population in the Northeast.
First off, we are not talking cheesy Hawaiian tourist luau limbo here, no this is the type of limbo where your soul gets stuck between the nether world and the heavens, if you choose to believe such things. Ascutney is stuck in the ski area equivalent at the moment. After a summer of debt ridden rumors swirling about the resort's future, it was announced on November 4th that the ski area would be closed for the 2010-2011 season. With the high speed quad up for sale and the mountain in foreclosure, it is uncertain if this mainstay of Vermont will spin its lifts again.
I got sucked into sub hunting for 45 minutes at 5 in the morning, which slightly delayed my departure. I finally motivated and started the journey to Brownsville at 6 am. All of the usual suspects were working or holidaying, leaving me solo for this maiden voyage to Ascutney. I had tracked the storm during the previous day and was fairly certain that this would be one of the best opportunities to ride the fallen ski area. When I pulled into the upper condo lot and set my gaze on the abandoned slopes, my optimism for deepness waned at the sight of grass showing.
Vermont has lost its fair share of ski areas over the years, the New England Lost Ski Area Project (NELSAP) currently lists 116 areas that have been swallowed by the times. However, during my stay in Vermont, I can only remember two other times that a heavy has fallen, Bolton Valley in 1997 and Ascutney in 1991-93. Not only does Ascutney hold a wealth of ski history, it is the backbone of the local winter economy and site to a slew of timeshare condos.
Many will argue that Ascutney's inability to keep up with its neighbors, led to its current state. Okemo pictured center from half way up Ascutney
I started up the hill, quickly picking up a trail and realizing that there was indeed a slew of snow. What I thought was grass turned out to be fairly substantial growth owing to a summer of neglect. I never fully appreciated how much went into summer maintenance or the importance, but when you see these overgrown trails it is painfully obvious. About half way up the first pitch, I noticed that all the tracks coming down basically went straight. I thought to myself that these must be the tracks of an inexperienced rider, I would be proven horribly incorrect on this.
The snow was light in places and fairly easy to bash through with the snowshoes. I was getting more and more excited as I climbed, daydreaming about the epic descent that would shortly be mine. Despite the overgrowth, there were pockets that looked pretty tasty and would afford a few smile inducing slashes. Finally I crested the top of a rise and spotted the offloading area of the triple. I was done hiking, or so I thought.
Like many of Vermont's areas, Ascutney started operation as a small community hill. The first trail was cut in 1938 and within ten years two rope tows had been installed. Over the years, the ski area expanded under the direction of various owners. After shutting down in the early nineties, Steven and Susan Plausteiner purchased the area for just over one million dollars and started to rejuvenate the facilities. At the time of closing this year, Ascutney boasted a 1,800 foot vertical drop, 5 lifts, 95% snowmaking coverage, and a rather expansive condo development. Unlike many of the dead Vermont areas, Ascutney offers some fairly extensive terrain with 57 trails, 37% classified as advanced.
I was cold and tired and pissed at my snowshoes by the time I arrived at the top to the triple. The lift shack looked warm and unwindy, so I plopped myself down for a few moments to catch my breath and attach the hiking elements to my pack. The view from the top of Ascutney is spectacular, with Mt. Washington to the East and Okemo and Killington to the West.
Taking a final depth check before starting my descent, I found a clean 3 ft. Typically this would be joyous find and at the time it was, but now looking back it doesn't seem so sweet. I had stared at the trail map for a tremendous amount of time and had carefully crafted a plan of attack. As soon as I pushed off of the top and into the depths of the snow pack, my plan blew away, probably landing at the base of Okemo. I suddenly realized why none of the tracks I had seen involved any turning. My board, mounted incorrectly for the conditions, submarined to the bottom of the snow, finding a very thin base layer. With the heavier windblown snow at my knees along with ample overgrowth, turning, stopping, and sometimes going became near impossible. I suddenly felt like I really sucked at snowboarding.
Finally I got the nose above water by basically sitting on my tail and started to pick up some speed, things were looking better. I am not completely sure, but I think I made a turn or two and perhaps got a few faceshots. Unfortunately the fun was short lived as I crashed through a massive drift and then caught the meat of a large rock on the base and stalled out.
Surveying the choices, I concluded that following the double diamond into what was sure to be another base layer rockfield was a poor choice and instead started down the blue square to rider's right. There were moments when it actually felt like I was snowboarding, claiming a few large wheelie turns and I even let out the yell of stoke. And then I stopped again. This time there was no choices that included the act of snowboarding and I was sure that I had found the edge of the ski area on the opposite end of my rig. I unbuckled and hoofed it across the mountain until I found someone's skin track. Excitedly I strapped in and actually started snowboarding. With the track to pick up speed, I was able to throw some nice heels in and spray myself with fluffy goodness. Those turns made my day.
The run ran out at the boarded up base lodge. There was something very eerie about the abandoned lodge and the overgrown trails, it reminded me of the Chernobyl photos from recent years. Then from behind the lodge I saw a line of telemarkers starting up the mountain, cheering each other on. Beyond the defunct snowcat, a posse of sledders was raging it up under the village triple. Despite the lifts not spinning, the mountain is alive.