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MarzNC

Independent Ski Areas/Resorts in the Northeast

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Also, and hopefully not to hijack, I'd be curious to see how different the list would be if the criteria were ski areas that are not owned by an "evil corporate entity"(for lack of a better way to put it) vs ones that are, where "evil corporate entity" basically means an owning party that is focussed on maximizing profits over anything else.

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43 minutes ago, SkiingInABlueDream said:

What's differentiates the "others" from the non-"others" in the list?

The ones I listed separately are either larger in terms of skiable acreage or better known.  The way line spacing is set, having just one column makes the list waaay too long for me to read.  I probably could've listed all the MA ski areas on one line.  Separated out WaWa and Berkshire East mostly because they have ongoing threads on NMS.  In other words, totally arbitrary. ?

Edited by MarzNC

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1 hour ago, SkiingInABlueDream said:

Also, and hopefully not to hijack, I'd be curious to see how different the list would be if the criteria were ski areas that are not owned by an "evil corporate entity"(for lack of a better way to put it) vs ones that are, where "evil corporate entity" basically means an owning party that is focussed on maximizing profits over anything else.

There is a big difference between maximizing profits over anything else in the short run, say less than two years, vs wanting to have good profits in the long run, say at least 5 years.  If only interested in the short run, then no big money would be spent on lift upgrades or lodge renovations or snowmaking infrastructure.  Portable snow guns perhaps, but not installing new pipeline or tower guns.  But the money doesn't have to all come from winter sports.  That's the importance of summer activities that bring in revenue.  Unless a ski area is a non-profit with good fundraising, there has to be a profit in the long run to stay in business.

Is your question what ski resorts in the northeast are not on this list of independents?  For instance consider a smaller sub-region like the Catskills or Maine.  The ski areas/resorts that are connected to a larger business entity in the Catskills are Belleayre (ORDA) and Hunter (Peak).  For Maine, Sunday River is back to owned and operated by Boyne Resorts.  Is Sugarloaf independent?  VT and NH have the most "connected" ski resorts in the northeast.

Edited by MarzNC

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1 hour ago, MarzNC said:

For Maine, Sunday River is back to owned and operated by Boyne Resorts.  Is Sugarloaf independent?

Boyne is SL, SR, and Loon. SL management (same with SR) is quite independent from Boyne though. You wouldn't know the two were owned by the same company based on how they function, interact with passholders, communities, etc. 

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16 minutes ago, Jully said:

Boyne is SL, SR, and Loon. SL management (same with SR) is quite independent from Boyne though. You wouldn't know the two were owned by the same company based on how they function, interact with passholders, communities, etc. 

Oh yeah, now I remember the list that goes with the Boyne New England passes.  First time I saw that pass name it was confusing.  The North Carolina Gold Pass is good at all ski areas in NC and all seven have different owners.  Have some impression of Sunday River from skiing there a couple times during early season.

Brighton is Boyne too.  But operates quite independently.  A friend worked there as a mountain host for several years.  Has a local vibe that is based around the locals who go regularly.  Including the teens and college students who ride the bus up the canyon for night skiing.  I would guess that Boyne Mountain and Boyne Highlands are more tightly connected from a management standpoint.

The mountain hosts at Sunday River, Brighton, and Big Sky are consistently friendly and knowledgeable.  My first experiences with free mountain host tours were at Brighton and Big Sky in 2011 and 2012.  I was impressed.

What the season pass holders at SL, SR, and Loon get because of the corporate connection is discounts at Boyne resorts in the west.  50% off at Big Sky is certainly worth while for someone who is considering a season pass to ski in Maine.

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4 hours ago, MarzNC said:

Is your question what ski resorts in the northeast are not on this list of independents?  For instance consider a smaller sub-region like the Catskills or Maine.  The ski areas/resorts that are connected to a larger business entity in the Catskills are Belleayre (ORDA) and Hunter (Peak).  For Maine, Sunday River is back to owned and operated by Boyne Resorts.  Is Sugarloaf independent?  VT and NH have the most "connected" ski resorts in the northeast.

I am perhaps not entirely sure what I'm asking, LOL. I think it's something like this. Being cynical Im inclined to think that Vail Resorts, for example, would be willing to convert any of its resorts to say, a tubing park, or another Disneyworld, if they thought it would bring in more money in whatever timeframe they're focused on. Basically plunder the soul of what exists to make as much money as possible.(**) On the other hand places like Magic and Sugarbush (just the first 2 that come to mind) appear to have benevolent owners. Obviously they want their resorts to succeed financially but they're also looking to preserve the essence of their resorts. I don't think my question is bounded by whether an area is independent. For example let's say if the Mad Riven Glen co-op went belly up and Winn bought MRG, then MRG and Sugarbush wouldn't be "independents" any more, but I would still consider them both to be under benevolent ownership, assuming Winn handled MRG like he did Sugarbush. I hope that makes sense. Aaaaand the more I think about perhaps this should have been a separate topic. ?

**Maybe I'm jumping on the dump-on-Vail bandwagon too much there.

Edited by SkiingInABlueDream

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53 minutes ago, SkiingInABlueDream said:

 For example let's say if the Mad Riven Glen co-op went belly up and Winn bought MRG, then MRG and Sugarbush wouldn't be "independents" any more, but I would still consider them both to be under benevolent ownership, assuming Winn handled MRG like he did Sugarbush.

1

I would consider let that slide, along with any two mountains that merge and can be connected or are easy to drive between (less than 20 minutes.)

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The Freedom Pass includes many ski areas that most would consider independent.  Obviously, this question is complicated and a resort that plays the limited reciprocity game has not necessarily lost its independence.  What about the  5 or 6 ski areas in North Carolina?  Are they all independent or are some clearly part of a multi-resort group?

Edited by JimK

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3 hours ago, JimK said:

The Freedom Pass includes many ski areas that most would consider independent.  Obviously, this question is complicated and a resort that plays the limited reciprocity game has not necessarily lost its independence.  What about the  5 or 6 ski areas in North Carolina?  Are they all independent or are some clearly part of a multi-resort group?

From an ownership standpoint, the ski areas in NC are completely independent to me.  The fact that there is a NC Gold Pass and a bit of common marketing doesn't make that much difference.  Decisions about when to open, when to close, how much to charge for season passes or day tickets, how much money to spend on capital upgrades . . . those are made independently.

The WV and PA ski areas/resorts have a state organization helping with marketing, same with NH and NY.  A few press releases and a marketing website doesn't make that much difference for the management of mountain operations or guest services.  The ORDA mountains have fairly separate management teams, but the money for improvements comes from the same source.  And the Ski3 season pass options tie the places together far more than the Freedom Pass, Powder Alliance, or MCP.

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Except for Sunday River and Sugarloaf, I believe all Maine ski areas are still independent. Several have been mentioned here, one I that don't believe has is Big Rock. If you like places like Mt Abram and the two Blacks, you'd really like Big Rock. Pretty awesome mid sized hill and one of my most memorable ski days in recent memory. Stunning views to Katahdin

Sent from my XT1635-01 using Northeast Mountain Sports mobile app

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5 hours ago, deadheadskier said:

Except for Sunday River and Sugarloaf, I believe all Maine ski areas are still independent. Several have been mentioned here, one I that don't believe has is Big Rock. If you like places like Mt Abram and the two Blacks, you'd really like Big Rock. Pretty awesome mid sized hill and one of my most memorable ski days in recent memory. Stunning views to Katahdin

Sent from my XT1635-01 using Northeast Mountain Sports mobile app
 

Big Rock has an unusual history for its almost 300 acres that is two hours north of Bangor.  Last family owner owned and operated Big Rock for 25 years, then sold to the Maine Winter Sports Center in 2000.  But when that wasn't going to continue, Big Rock managed to stay open as a non-profit.  I thought the name sounded familiar.  I also have a list of non-profits in the U.S.  That's a pretty short list.

http://www.newenglandskihistory.com/Maine/bigrock.php

Apparently Maine Winter Sports never intended to run Big Rock or Black Mountain for the long run.  They allowed the local communities time to organize enough to keep the ski areas open as non-profits.  Over $6 million was spent in the ten years that Maine Winter Sports was in charge of Big Rock.  It draws Canadians as well as local folks in northern Maine.

https://bangordailynews.com/2013/08/06/news/aroostook/maine-winter-sports-center-to-pull-out-of-bigrock-ski-area/

Sounds like 2017-18 might have been a key season for Big Rock as a non-profit.  With modern snowmaking and recently added snow tubing that's proved popular, they stayed open well into April.

https://thecounty.me/2017/11/27/news/bigrock-mountain-preparing-for-new-ski-season/

Edited by MarzNC

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18 hours ago, MarzNC said:

Apparently Maine Winter Sports never intended to run Big Rock or Black Mountain for the long run.  They allowed the local communities time to organize enough to keep the ski areas open as non-profits.  Over $6 million was spent in the ten years that Maine Winter Sports was in charge of Big Rock.

It was the Libra Foundation money that paid for all the upgrades. They were the actual Saving Grace for Bigrocks existence.

 

18 hours ago, MarzNC said:

Sounds like 2017-18 might have been a key season for Big Rock as a non-profit.  With modern snowmaking and recently added snow tubing that's proved popular, they stayed open well into April.

The "modern snowmaking" consists of a handful of portable fanguns. I've never seen more than 5-6 operating at once. While the snowmaking helped a lot, we still had a heavy snow cover on the ground, in the yard at our place in Central Aroostook, into May this spring.

Edited by MEtoVTskier

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1 hour ago, MEtoVTskier said:

The "modern snowmaking" consists of a handful of portable fanguns. I've never seen more than 5-6 operating at once. While the snowmaking helped a lot, we still had a heavy snow cover on the ground, in the yard at our place in Central Aroostook, into May this spring.

Still a big difference between a fan gun bought within the last 5-6 years and some home grown snow maker or even commercial snow guns before the big fan guns were invented.  I've seen how much new fan guns changed things at Massanutten over the last five years.  A deep enough base of manmade snow helps keep trails open as it warms up in the spring.  Works for Superstar at Killington. ?

I thought it was cool that Big Rock took advantage of the March snowstorms to stay open more weekends in April.

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The fact that Bretton Woods is owned by Omni Resorts was brought up in another thread.  @mbedle noted that the other ski resort owned and operated by Omni is Homestead in Virginia.

Even for Virginia, Homestead is tiny.  No one talks about going there for a day trip just to ski, which does happen at Wintergreen and Massanutten.  Has an old double with a mid station for unloading and has have lights for night skiing.  The ski slopes are an amenity for resort guests like the ice skating rink or the zip lines.  Good place to learn to ski for someone living in DC or Richmond.  I would guess that if Homestead were an independent ski area, then the ski hill might have closed long ago.  But as a 4-season resort known for the two championship level golf courses and hot springs, it's a sustainable business with a long history.  Homestead has been a summer vacation destination since the 19th century.  Skiing started in 1959.   KSL (yes, as in Alterra) was the owner for a few years before selling Homestead to Omni in 2013.

http://www.skisoutheast.com/an-aerial-flyover-of-omni-homestead-resort-in-virginia/

I don't know much about Bretton Woods.   How long has Omni owned it?

Edited by MarzNC

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1 hour ago, JimK said:

I visited The Homestead once about a dozen years ago.  I had the honor of meeting Sepp Kober, the founder of their ski operation in 1959 and member of the National Ski Hall of Fame:

http://www.dcski.com/articles/view_article.php?article_id=794&mode=search

Did Homestead feel like an independent ski resort?  Did not realize how long ago Homestead put in a ski lift.  Skiing at Massanutten started in 1972.  But I'm learning that the 1960s was a growth era for new ski areas in the U.S. in multiple regions.

Have you skied at Bretton Woods?

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40 minutes ago, MarzNC said:

Have you skied at Bretton Woods?

I know this question was for @JimK , and I'm interested to hear his answer.  But I thought I'd weigh in a bit too since I think I was the one who originally mentioned BW as being independent despite being owned by Omni.  I've skied BW a lot.  Here's my 'Yes...But' list for it being considered independent: 

  • Yes it's owned by a huge national chain...But it isn't a chain of ski areas it's a chain of hotels.  They are in it for the Mt Washington hotel more than anything, which just happens to have a ski area.
  • Yes there are ski and stay packages...But the hotel feels pretty disconnected from the ski area. It's pretty far away, there are no ski in/out options. My guess is that a large portion of the people staying at the Mt Wash aren't even skiing at BW.  And vice versa. 
  • Yes Omni owns one other small ski area....But the point of the original question mostly had to do with widespread shared passes that create competition in the skiing marketplace.  That's not the case for Omni/BW/Homestead.  The only shared pass that BW has is the White Mountain Superpass.  Which is a NH-based pass specifically formed by independent ski areas to compete with the large multi-ownership resort passes (Peak, Boyne, etc)
  • Yes BW is big. They claim to be the biggest in NH....But it feels small.  It has one base which is pretty modest. It definitely doesn't have a 'resort' feel. 
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1 hour ago, Cannonballer said:

I know this question was for @JimK , and I'm interested to hear his answer.  But I thought I'd weigh in a bit too since I think I was the one who originally mentioned BW as being independent despite being owned by Omni.  I've skied BW a lot.  Here's my 'Yes...But' list for it being considered independent: 

  • Yes it's owned by a huge national chain...But it isn't a chain of ski areas it's a chain of hotels.  They are in it for the Mt Washington hotel more than anything, which just happens to have a ski area.
  • Yes there are ski and stay packages...But the hotel feels pretty disconnected from the ski area. It's pretty far away, there are no ski in/out options. My guess is that a large portion of the people staying at the Mt Wash aren't even skiing at BW.  And vice versa. 
  • Yes Omni owns one other small ski area....But the point of the original question mostly had to do with widespread shared passes that create competition in the skiing marketplace.  That's not the case for Omni/BW/Homestead.  The only shared pass that BW has is the White Mountain Superpass.  Which is a NH-based pass specifically formed by independent ski areas to compete with the large multi-ownership resort passes (Peak, Boyne, etc)
  • Yes BW is big. They claim to be the biggest in NH....But it feels small.  It has one base which is pretty modest. It definitely doesn't have a 'resort' feel. 

Helps to know that the historic hotel is not ski in/out.  My interest in a list of "independent" ski areas in the northeast is not really tied to multi-resort lift passes or perks because I don't live there.  Would be hard to get good value even out of the White Mountain Superpass.  It's more a variation on learning about ski areas/resorts that are "family owned" and the associated vibe.  I'm the type of skier who much prefers Alta over Snowbird or Grand Targhee over Jackson Hole partially because of the vibe.

JimK has skied at a lot of "off the beaten track" ski areas in multiple regions.  I only started checking out less known ski areas in the northeast and mid-Atlantic a few years ago and often that means just stopping by briefly during the off-season.  A trail map never really makes sense until I at least spend time at the base in person.

I noticed that about $90 million was spent on improvements at Bretton Woods in the last 10 years.  That's when it was bought by CNL.  Needless to say, most of the money was for restoring and upgrading the hotel and non-ski related parts of the resort.  Started with a $50 million project in 2007.  Clearly the amount of money spent related to the slopes is nothing like what Vail did for the three midwest ski areas in 2012 and 2016.  Serious money for improving snowmaking seemed to start around 2013.  Didn't know that Bretton Woods only become part of the Mt. Washington Hotel and Resort in 1991.  The hotel didn't open for the winter season guests until 1999.  It was built as a luxurious summer resort in the era when wealthy guests took the train north for summer vacations in the mountains.

Based on my experience and knowledge of Massanutten, it makes sense that Omni spent money on the hotel and other areas of the resort before turning attention to the slopes at Bretton Woods.  My family became timeshare owners at Massanutten in 2003 when the indoor-outdoor waterpark was just a plan.  Massanutten was a summer resort for wealthy DC families to cool off in the Shenandoah mountains long before skiing was considered.  It was built as a 4-season timeshare resort with the ski hill as the key activity in the winter.  The lifts opened in 1972.  There was a growth phase starting in the 1990s.  First big money was spent on the two golf courses over 5-10 years.  The waterpark opened in 2006.  The plan for major investment for snowsports was created in 2005, but between the waterpark and the 2008 recession, it wasn't until 2014 that construction started on a new building for ski school and an instructor locker room and lounge, as well as renovations to the old ski school space on the lower floor of the main lodge.  Over the last ten years, Massanutten has spent on the order of $20 million for snowsports, including new lifts and better snowmaking for the slopes and snow tubing.

Fair to say that both Homestead and Bretton Woods are now on my list of places to visit.  Perhaps during ski season but could end up being during fall colors or in the spring. ?

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It's been a while, but The Homestead felt quite independent to me back in 2005.  The hotel is magnificent and the relationship to the ski slopes sounds a bit like BW.  The hotel is not slopeside, and the ski area felt more like one of many amenities, not the overwhelming focus of winter guests.  In fact, I was at The Homestead over President's Weekend and one morning while my kids and I were carrying our skis in the hotel elevator another guest exclaimed, "they have skiing here?"

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Found a description of a weekend spent by a family at the Mt. Washington Hotel in 2011.  That was after $60 million had been spent on renovations.  Certainly sounds similar to JimK's experience at the Homestead.

https://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/20/travel/20Bretton-Woods.html

 

Quote

 

. . .

I HAVE three ski-racing children, and upon arriving in northern New Hampshire in the middle of a Friday last month, there was no chance we were checking into the hotel before skiing first. Within minutes, thanks to two high-speed lifts, we were flying down the renowned Bretton Woods groomers. I immediately felt as if my memory had deceived me. No, these were not death-defying runs, but they had an old New England feel, with dips and hollows that induced an entertaining rhythm of linked turns.

We ventured over to the West Mountain trails, opened in the late 1990s, and found the long Starr King trail, which had several good drops and pitches that demanded attention. On subsequent runs, we found small detours next to Starr King that cut through the woods, like John Grave’s Glades. These were 40-second sojourns, not exactly classic backcountry, but engaging diversions that I didn’t recall from past visits. Then again, Bretton Woods has grown to 102 trails, more than doubling what it had when I first visited in the 1980s. . . .

 

 

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8 hours ago, Cannonballer said:

I know this question was for @JimK , and I'm interested to hear his answer.  But I thought I'd weigh in a bit too since I think I was the one who originally mentioned BW as being independent despite being owned by Omni.  I've skied BW a lot.  Here's my 'Yes...But' list for it being considered independent: 

  • Yes it's owned by a huge national chain...But it isn't a chain of ski areas it's a chain of hotels.  They are in it for the Mt Washington hotel more than anything, which just happens to have a ski area.
  • Yes there are ski and stay packages...But the hotel feels pretty disconnected from the ski area. It's pretty far away, there are no ski in/out options. My guess is that a large portion of the people staying at the Mt Wash aren't even skiing at BW.  And vice versa. 
  • Yes Omni owns one other small ski area....But the point of the original question mostly had to do with widespread shared passes that create competition in the skiing marketplace.  That's not the case for Omni/BW/Homestead.  The only shared pass that BW has is the White Mountain Superpass.  Which is a NH-based pass specifically formed by independent ski areas to compete with the large multi-ownership resort passes (Peak, Boyne, etc)
  • Yes BW is big. They claim to be the biggest in NH....But it feels small.  It has one base which is pretty modest. It definitely doesn't have a 'resort' feel. 

Yes, but... they offer multiple multi-area passes, but as all permutations with the same ski areas. Like having a midweek pass with Cannon. And Sunday - Friday with Cranmore.

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39 minutes ago, Weatherman said:

Yes, but... they offer multiple multi-area passes, but as all permutations with the same ski areas. Like having a midweek pass with Cannon. And Sunday - Friday with Cranmore.

Perhaps Bretton Woods is more "old school" than "independent."  While Sugarbush is clearly independent but not old school.  Does that make sense?  Note that "old school" does not necessarily mean that all the lifts are fixed grip, although that's often the case.

Being part of a cooperative multi-resort pass does not make a ski area/resort less independent to me.  Alta is clearly independent as a business but has been part of the MCP since the start and the SLC SuperPass for even longer.  Snowbird is also independent even though the owner is also the owner of Powdr.  Just as Aspen Ski Co. is independent even though the Crown family that owns ASC is a major partner in Alterra.  Telluride will be part of the Epic Pass for 2017-18 but hasn't been bought by Vail . . . yet.

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