Powder Ridge Returns for 2013-14 Ski Season
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The resort will offer 10 “day rooms” that will be set up as living rooms with full-size queen sofa beds and can be rented for a half day, full day or overnight, or for special events like weddings, which will be offered at the top of the mountain in a picturesque gazebo featuring views of the entire Connecticut Valley.
Joseph Robison, who first learned to ski at Powder Ridge in 1992 when he was 5, will be teaching there again this winter. He’s excited to see the area get a second chance. “I can remember it hustling and bustling in full swing—people having fun, skiing and enjoying the mountain, and I can’t wait to be making turns down some of those runs once again,” he says. “All the lifts were spinning, busses from New York were bringing people in. The restaurant was open, you could grab a coffee and chowder and hang by the roaring fire watching the people ski. It really was a great atmosphere.”
Jennifer Sprague of Vernon says her Glastonbury High School ski team held weekly practices at Powder Ridge in the late 1990s and she has many fond memories of her time on the slopes. “Through skiing, I had the opportunity to be a part of a team sport with great people who shared my passion—it kept me active during the winter, instilled a sense of pride in myself and in my team, and helped me develop leadership skills when I eventually became a team captain,” Sprague says. “I am excited to see Powder Ridge reopening and to know that more kids will be able to have these great experiences.”
Powder Ridge will be the first mountain in the Northeast to implement a terrain-based learning center to help learn how to ski, which takes away the fear of falling, Hayes says. “This is a beginner-to-intermediate hill,” he says. “It’s a family park. We want people to get back outside and get healthy.”
Hayes had to make several structural improvements to bring everything up to code before opening day, with permitting delays every step of the way—it took almost nine months to just get power restored. He also had to deal with a severely vandalized property and $150,000 worth of copper being stolen from the site over the years. “It’s been an eye-opener,” he says. “It’s been educational. It’s been frustrating. But the passion, the vision, has not diminished.”
While there’s still a long way to go, he says, “I don’t give up easy.”
He did get one break: The lifts were in better shape than anticipated. By late summer, they had been inspected and were ready to go. Three lifts—two triples and a double—take skiers all the way to the top of the ridge. In the restoration process, the crew added a second, faster, speed; it now takes about 12 minutes to reach the top, Hayes says, “but they can be slowed down for leaf-peepers as needed.”
Sixty-six snowmaking machines and six fan guns will be on-site. The pond at the bottom of the hill has been dredged and widened to double its capacity from 4 million to 8 million gallons, which Hayes says will be “more than enough for snowmaking.” It only has to be 38 degrees to make snow, but Hayes is hoping for a cold winter to make the resort as successful as it can be.
By mid-September, Powder Ridge had already sold twice as many season tickets as expected, offering 50-percent-off deals and combination summer-winter passes with Brownstone. “For a first year, we are doing well,” Hayes says, appreciating the fact that people are taking a risk, not knowing what to fully expect the first season.
Powder Ridge—then known as the Powder Hill Ski Area—first opened on Jan. 20, 1961, the same day President John F. Kennedy was inaugurated. New Haven appliance dealers Louis and Herman Zemel started formal construction in the late fall of 1960, after it had operated as a bunny hill with a tow rope for a year. Two years later, the installation of a new double chairlift transformed Powder Hill from a minor to a major ski area. At that time, a full-day lift ticket cost only $5; an eight-hour flex ticket for a weekend day or weekday will now cost $55.
In the mid 1960s the Zemel brothers introduced early-bird and night skiing, opening at 6:30 a.m. and staying open until 3 a.m. Some local residents even remember it being open 24-hours for a short time.
Powder Ridge staff received a note from Don Rupar, now 77, who remembers having a “roaring good time” skiing before and after work. “Nobody on the mountain except me and the snow groomers,” he reminisces. “My wife thought I was insane, and I probably was.”
Night skiing will be back this year, according to Hayes.
“There’s a really good feeling of tranquility on a mountain at night,” says ski instructor Robison. “Catching runs till 10 p.m. under the lights with your friends is super awesome. There’s not too many other places you can do this.”