Haystack Mountain Ski Area
|Location||Wilmington, Vermont, US|
|Nearest major city||Albany, New York|
|Longest run||Ventura Highway|
|Lift system||1 6 pass heated bubble chair installed 2015, 2 Triples, 2 Quads, 1 tow rope|
|Snowmaking||90% Non-Gladed Trails|
The ski area
The ski area comprises three major sections: the lower mountain, upper mountain, and The Witches. The lower mountain is entirely beginner terrain. The upper mountain has intermediate and advanced terrain. The Witches is advanced terrain except for an intermediate run down the west (or “back”) side.
The ski area’s largest lift, The Barnstormer, is a Doppelmayr six-person, detachable lift, with a protective bubble. The Barnstormer serves the upper mountain, and takes skiers from the clubhouse to the summit of Haystack Mountain. The Tage lift, a Skytrac quad, on the north side of the ski area, brings skiers from the Hermitage Inn to the upper mountain. The Stags Leap lift, also a Skytrac quad, serves the lower mountain and connects the lower mountain to the upper mountain, with an optional mid-point exit at the top of the lower mountain. The Witches lift, a CTEC triple, serves The Witches area of the mountain.
Members have access to a 80,000 square ft clubhouse with a bar, restaurant, game room, bowling alley, and movie theatre. The clubhouse also includes a spa, gym, and lockers for members to keep ski equipment. There is a 2,700 square foot mid-mountain cabin, with a 900 square foot wrap-around porch, and a restaurant and bar.
Alpine skiing on Haystack Mountain has been offered through a range of different approaches. From 1964 to 1991 the ski area was run as an independent operation open to the public. From 1991 to 2005 skiing was offered as part of neighboring ski area Mount Snow. From 2012 - 2018, ski area owner Jim Barnes offer skiing through membership in a private club. In 2018, the primary debtor initiated bankruptcy proceedings and the state shut the club down due to failure to pay taxes. In 2020, a collection of former members purchased the club’s assets out of bankruptcy and now operate the ski area as a private, member owned club.
Haystack Mountain Ski Area
Haystack ski area was first opened in December 1964 by the Haystack Corporation, with 76 acres of trails and slopes. The mountain had 4 T-bars servicing the lower mountain novice area with a three story base lodge, called “The Stack,” at the top of the novice area. The Stack was, “designed in the jet-set style of the day, with an elaborate ski shop, cafeteria, dining room, cocktail lounge and a wine and cheese shop.” The ski area’s president, Herbert Hart, was quoted as saying, “All the brains of the area were pooled to come up with an answer on how they could have a wine shop and bar under the same roof. You aren’t supposed to have both. The solution was simple. The cork is pulled from the wine bottles as they are sold. The wine is consumed on the premises.” The upper mountain had a 2,700 foot double chairlift which took skiers halfway to the summit. Three buses -- Root, Toot, and Wisle -- took skiers between The Stack and bottom of the upper mountain chair lift. Jack Manton was the general manager, and Bruce Gavett was in charge of the ski school with Bob McCafferty as his assistant. Bill Colombo was the manager of engineering.
During the 1965 ski season, the Haystack Corp. added a 5,600 ft long chairlift that took skiers all the way to the peak, opening up new trails, and bringing the trail count to 18. A nursery for young children ages 3 to 7 was also added. Dick McLernon, the area’s PR director, said in 1965 the area had broken all previous records for December gross income, “Business started increasing the day after Christmas and became better each day. Wednesday was our biggest day, but even so it was only about 65 per cent of our record day last March when we had more than 10,000 people here. A good weekday crowd here is about 3,000 and the weekend crowd averages between eight and ten thousand.” At the time the area offered a family weekend ticket for $38, and a $30 weekend package which included two lessons a day.
A 60s ski area map, archived by New England Ski History project, shows the lower mountain trails as Haymaker, Pitchfork, Skid Row, Fanny Hill, Cascade, and Tunnel. The upper mountain trails as Flying Dutchman, Hayseed, Shaft, Needle,, Last Straw, Rocker, 007, Haywire, Outcast, Upper Dutchman, Avalanche, Last Chance, The Stump Jumper, and The Oh Noooooo.
In May 1966, E. H. Lord-Wood Associates of Hartford, CT presented the master plan design and rendering for the ski area at a local town meeting. The Brattleboro Reformer described the plan as, “encompassing the entire Haystack development in a central village, includes a hotel, theater, shops, lodges, motels, clubs and various year round recreational facilities.
In July, 1966, Jack Manton was replaced as the area’s GM by William Palumbo. Manton returned to his real estate business in New Jersey but continued in his role as vice president and development manager of Haystack Before the 1966 ski season opened, an 1,800 foot transfer lift was added to transport skiers from the lodge to lifts at the base of the upper mountain. The cocktail lounge in the base lodge was expanded as well.
In 1968, Haystack was recognized for their work teaching the handicap to ski, and as one of the first ski areas to teach the blind to ski. As the Brattleboro Reformer tells it, a Sunday school teacher asked Gavett if she could bring her class to ski Haystack, but noted one of the boys in the class, Chris Peppel, was blind. Gavett was undeterred and had his ski instructors prepare by skiing the mountain blindfolded. Peppel was able to ski the entire mountain with an instructor as a guide. As their expertise in this area grew, they hired Jim Gardner, an amputee, as a ski instructor. As a result, Haystack had seven blind, four def, and five amputee skiers regularly skiing the mountain. Gardner lauded Gavett for his selfless work in this area. Throughout Gavett’s time at Haystack he was recognized many times for his success with making skiing accessible to everyone, regardless of ability.
In 1969, William Thomas (W. T.) Cullen joined the ranks of Haystack Corp. Cullen had been president of Chimney Hill Corp., the 700-acre, 700-lot vacation home development adjacent Haystack Mountain. Cullen believed Haystack’s success was hampered by the lack of overnight accommodations and restaurants near Haystack, especially as compared with Mt. Snow. Under Cullen’s leadership, the corporation completed an 18-hole golf course in 1971, and sold $11M in property between 1970 and 1973.
In 1971, Palumbo resigned as Haystack GM to work full time for Mueller Skilift Corp. He had been distributing and installing lifts for Mueller on a part time basis while at Haystack. Gavett was promoted to GM to replace him.
In the late 60s, Vermont started paying closer attention to the rapid expansion of land use in the state. This eventually led to the passage of Act 250, putting a microscope on Haystack’s growth plans. While many lots had been sold, both at Haystack and the Chimney Hill development, sewers and water lines had not yet been completed. Plans previously approved by the town were called into question. This was made more complex when existing sewer work was halted because Haystack’s primary lender and mortgage holder, Associated Mortgage Investors (AM), entered bankruptcy proceedings. Several lawsuits followed, including one accusing the Haystack Corporation of misrepresenting the development’s progress. This led to AMI taking over operations of Haystack in 1974, eventually putting it into bankruptcy in 1976.
The ski area continued operations through bankruptcy and receivership. In 1979, the Tri-Mountain Leisure Group (TLG) leased and then operated Haystack Ski Area. TLG also owned Roundtop ski area in northern VT. TLG operated it through the 1980/1981 season, but with Roundtop also struggling, and no credible offers on the table for Haystack Ski Area, AMI was forced to shut it down.
The area remained closed until Don Tarinelli and a group of investors formed The Haystack Group and bought the area and its assets for $850,000. Don Tarinelli was the former president of the Stratton Mountain Ski Area and had retired to nearby Jamaica, VT. The Haystack group spent an estimated $7,000,000 updating and repairing the ski area. They replaced two double chairs with new triple lifts, and invested more than $1,000,000 in snowmaking infrastructure. The Haystack Group also expanded the ski area’s footprint by adding a CTEC triple lift to the eastern side of the mountain -- an area they called the Witches. This new section added three new advanced trails named Gandolf, Merlin, and Cauldron. The Haystack Group also started a new condominium community near Chimney Hill called Spyglass Village. While these improvements upgraded the ski experience at Haystack the mountain couldn’t attract enough skiers to overcome the debt from the large infrastructure investments and it was forced into bankruptcy late in the summer of 1991.
In 1991, S-K-I Ltd., owners of nearby Mount Snow, leased, and then purchased Haystack, and soon began promoting the two ski areas as one. Though they were never connected by alpine ski trails or lifts, (there is a Nordic trail along the ridge between the two), trail counts and snow reports were often combined. In 1996 S-K-I Ltd. merged with LBO Resort Enterprises, forming the American Skiing Company. The American Skiing Company (ASC) would soon hit financial troubles, resulting in the scaling back of operations at Haystack. By the end of its ownership of Haystack, ASC limited operations to weekend and holiday periods.
The Haystack Club
"In mid-2005, a group of investors led by Mr. Foisie paid $5 million to the parent company of Mount Snow for Haystack Ski Area’s 400 acres and soon announced the creation of the Haystack Club, a private resort with a plan to build 450 townhomes and condos, and a heli-pad for people coming from Manhattan." The club was open for two days of groomed uncrowded skiing for the members, but was sued by Mount Snow for water rights closed as a result.
The Hermitage Club At Haystack Mountain
In 2011, Jim Barnes, purchased the ski area and the adjacent golf course for $6,500,000. Barnes had purchased the nearby Hermitage Inn in 2007. Barnes rebranded the club, The Hermitage Club at Haystack Mountain, and the golf course, The Hermitage Golf Course. The Hermitage Club first opened for the 2012-2013 ski season.
Barnes expanded the amenities provide by the ski area:
- "The Haystack Base Lodge and Club House: a new base lodge and club house (approx. 80,000 sq. ft.) recently constructed at the base of the main ski area of Haystack Mountain (ground broken in August 2012 and completed as of January 2015).
- The Williams Scott Mobile Rescue Building and Lavatory Facility (Scott Rescue Facility): In November 2012, a double-wide trailer (24 x 60 feet) was installed at the base area of Haystack Mountain for the 2012-2013 ski season and was used for ski patrol, public bathrooms, and a warming hut. The Scott Rescue Facility was necessary for Hermitage Inn to operate the ski mountain for the winter season, by providing essential ski rescue services and bathrooms.
- Summit Building: originally planned as a warming hut at the summit of Haystack Mountain; the building was later renovated to an administrative and sales office.
- Single Family Homes and Condos: around 20 homes have been built and sold between 2011-2014, with hundreds more planned (up to 450-500 combined condos and homes).
- On or about June 20, 2014, Hermitage Inn converted Mirror Lake from a snowmaking pond into a recreation area by constructing the following: a 90-foot-long split-rail fence, a 176-square-foot dock along the shore, an 80-square-foot floating dock, a boat rack for kayaks and other watercraft, and a beach area of approximately 20-25 cubic yards of sand"
Barnes also added two additional chair lifts, and replaced the main lift, The Barnstormer, with a new high speed six person lift. ABC's The Bachelor filmed four episodes at the Club that were aired during the 2018 Winter Olympics.
The club was not without legal troubles. In 2015, the Vermont Attorney General's Office and other governmental agencies filed a lawsuit against the club. The group allegedly performed construction activities without land use permits, performed construction activities without a storm water permit, constructed a building without a wastewater and potable water supply permit and disturbed a wetland without approval. In his response, Barnes said “Although the Hermitage didn’t agree with the allegations we agreed to 100% mitigation at our expense." The Hermitage continued further dialogue with the state and although disagreeing with the penalties proposed, offered a proposal to settle this issue which has since been rejected.
Despite successful operation of the ski area since 2012, and reported membership growth, Barnes ran into financial difficulties in 2018. In February, 2018, Berkshire Bank initiated bankruptcy proceedings as Barnes failed to meet his obligation to make payments on three loans. Following this, in March, 2018, the Vermont Department of Taxes shut down the club due to non-payment of taxes. Civil lawsuits followed, include one accusing Barnes of fraud and seeking to recoup more than $2,000,000 for townhouses that were never built. On July 26, 2019, a Vermont judge granted a motion Friday to convert the bankruptcy case to a Chapter 7 liquidation allow for a sale of the club's assets to move forward.
Member group repurchases club, forms member owned club
On March 20, 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, a group of 181 former members submitted an $8,060,000 bid for the resort, the six-person bubble chairlift known as the Barnstormer, the golf course, several inns and some undeveloped parcels of land. The sale included the Hermitage Inn, Snow Goose Inn and Doveberry Inn in Dover, and the Horizon Inn in Wilmington. The member group outmatched multiple competing bids including those from a real estate development firm headquartered in California and a Michigan-based ski resort operator. The member group describes itself as, "a member-owned entity established to own and operate the Hermitage Club as a private, four-season, family-friendly ski resort on Haystack Mountain." The group plans to re-open the mountain for the 2020/2021 ski season. The group has sold the Hermitage Golf Club, and the Doveberry Inn in West Dover which are now open to the public. The Hermitage Inn, the Snowgoose Inn, and the Horizon Inn will be sold as well.
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- Hermitage Club - Attempting to reopen Haystack as an upscale private ski area
- Mount Snow
- Haystack Page at the New England Lost Ski Area Project
- New Life for Vermont's Haystack Ski Area