Powder Ridge Returns for 2013-14 Ski Season


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The work never seems to stop. Generators hum, hammers bang, saws spin and workers plant grass seed and carry old shelving out of buildings. Pick-up trucks drive up and down a dirt road. Bobcats dig where 1,400 parking spaces will soon be. With just about a month left to go before lights are set to come back on at Powder Ridge Mountain Park & Resort in Middlefield, time is running out.

“We will be open for the season,” vows Sean Hayes, the new owner, on a warm day in October. “We may not have all the services we would like, but we will be open.”

One of five ski areas in Connecticut, Powder Ridge offers a 525-foot vertical drop and a 2,000-foot run with 22 trails, from bunny hills to black diamonds. It’s the only ski resort in the state with a full half-pipe.

The southernmost ski area in New England—to some mostly known for its failed rock festival in 1970—has been closed since 2007, when owner Whitewater Mountain Resorts filed for bankruptcy. The town of Middlefield bought it for $2.55 million in December 2008 at a foreclosure auction. Four years later Hayes, who also owns Brownstone Exploration & Discovery Park in Portland, was able to acquire the resort from the town for $700,000 after voters overwhelmingly approved the deal via referendum.

As part of the deal, Hayes agreed to invest at least $2 million in permanent improvements to the property. His plan was to invest up to $5 million if necessary.

“I’m nuts,” he says about his decision to buy the place. However, with all the synergies between a ski area and his Portland water park, Hayes says he couldn’t resist the challenge. “They are only nine miles apart. We can reach 23 million people within a 90-mile radius.” Between the two properties, he’ll be offering full-time work for almost 200, including cooks, waitstaff, lift operators and ski instructors.

Hayes is passionate about his vision to restore the long-vacant Powder Ridge into a full-service resort, leveraging the unique attributes of the terrain like when he transformed a Portland quarry into an exciting adventure park. He describes the project as a “continuing vision that evolves when you get into it.”

“I’m a sculptor,” he says. “I’m the happiest when I’m on a bulldozer.” Plus, having the winter off was just “too much relaxation.” (Brownstone operates from May through September; Powder Ridge will be open from October through March, offering leaf-peeping tours starting next fall.)

When complete, Powder Ridge will offer skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, obstacle courses, a swimming pool, hiking, tubing and a scenic parking area. The 19,000-square-foot lodge will have retail shops, and Hayes says he hopes it will be a place where parents don’t just drop kids off but stay to shop and watch the family ski on TVs in the base lodge.

“We will feature three levels of eating,” he says, laying out the floor plans: A market area on the first level with The Ridgeside Tavern bar and mountain views on upper levels, topped by a more formal full-size restaurant, Fire at the Ridge, headed up by celebrity chef Kevin Cottle, former executive chef for Jordan Caterers and a first runner up on Gordon Ramsay’s TV cooking competition “Hell’s Kitchen.” Hayes is hopeful the restaurant will be open by New Year’s Eve.

Powder Ridge Returns for 2013-14 Ski Season

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