Powder Ridge Returns for 2013-14 Ski Season


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The Zemels changed the name to Powder Ridge in 1970 and sought to expand the resort but faced opposition from zoning officials in both Middlefield and Meriden. Eventually, after some legal battles, they were approved for expansion and installed New England’s first quadruple chairlift in 1972. (The lift was converted down to a triple in 2001.)

Attempting to make some extra money during the off-season, the Zemels agreed to host a rock festival on the ridge in July 1970. It was set to feature Janis Joplin, the Allman Brothers and Van Morrison. However, a court injunction granted to local groups opposed to the event put a stop to the music two days beforehand. While none of the key performers showed up, about 30,000 visitors did—young people who had traveled from near and far and didn’t know the event had been canceled. They camped out, did drugs, swam in and contaminated the pond, leaving a mess in their wake. When the 1970-71 ski season started, the Zemels offered those with festival tickets the opportunity to trade them in for ski passes and promised the resort had been fully restored to its previous pristine condition.

In 1997, Iowa developer Kenneth Leavitt of Whitewater Mountain Resorts bought Powder Ridge from the Zemel family, with the plan of adding a water park to turn it into a year-round resort. The company struggled for years with the proposed expansion but eventually ran out of capital. In 2005, T.D. Bank started foreclosure proceedings on the ski area. The foreclosure was halted in April 2007 when Whitewater filed for bankruptcy, but a judge later agreed it could proceed, eventually paving the way for the sale of the resort.  

In stepped Hayes, who negotiated for seven months before signing on the dotted line on Sept. 12, 2012, taking full ownership.

Middlefield First Selectman Jon Brayshaw told The Middletown Press at the time that he was “just thrilled that our town has a new business owner that’s putting a lot of effort and care” into the property and that “it was a real mess” until Hayes took over. “It’s not just any plot of land,” said Brayshaw. “It’s been the source of great pride to the town and its inhabitants.”

The property will be back on the tax rolls as of the 2013 Grand List, saving Middlefield the $250,000 it had to pay per year in upkeep and taxes to Meriden and Wallingford, since part of the ski area reaches into those towns. Middlefield will also receive 20 percent of ticket sales once Powder Ridge is up and running, as part of the agreement.

Hayes has a similar deal with Portland, a deal First Selectwoman Susan Bransfield says has greatly benefitted the town. Portland leases the Brownstone quarry to Hayes, and the town gets 15 percent of ticket revenue, which amounted to a total income of almost $1 million between July 2007 and July 2013. In 2012 alone, the town received more than $300,000 from Brownstone.

“Our public-private partnership is a huge success,” says Bransfield. “We are revitalizing a once dormant area of our town. We have revenue coming from a quarry that was abandoned and had stopped production a long time ago.”

While Brownstone is getting about 76,000 visitors per year, Hayes says he hopes to reach 110,000 visitors—peak performance for the previous owner—at Powder Ridge in a few years.

Despite some concerns about increased traffic and some objections to his deal with the town, Hayes says he has seen “no ill will.” “Everyone is looking forward to Powder Ridge,” he says. And while the length of his ski trails may not rival those of Killington or Mt. Snow in Vermont, Hayes welcomes beginners, families and those who wish to ski close to home once again.

“Some people might complain ‘Oh, there’s not 2,000 vertical feet, oh there’s not a lot of steeps,’” instructor Robison says. “What really matters is simple: it’s the fun that counts.”

Powder Ridge Returns for 2013-14 Ski Season

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