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Who: Mill Town CEO and Managing Director Tim Burke, Bousquet General Manager Kevin McMillan, and Pittsfield native and Olympic Skier Krista Schmidinger
Recorded on: November 16, 2020
Why I interviewed them: Because lift-served skiing is not just a few giant ski areas hanging off the top of New England, flying the flags of corporate overlords five or 10 states away. Skiing, like a forest, is an ecosystem. A forest needs trees and insects and water and dirt and a food chain of animals. Everyone likes to look at the wolves, but we don’t have wolves without chipmunks. Skiing is the same. We don’t have Stowe or Sunday River or Whiteface without Bousquet – at least, we don’t have them as sustainable long-term entities, because otherwise where would the new skiers come from? Some people learn to ski at the monsters, but most of us don’t, and ski areas like Bousquet, anchored deeply their communities, are some of the most productive new-skier engines there are. Part of my mission, as I see it, is to tell the story of lift-served skiing as it evolves in the Northeast, and the way that smaller ski areas like Bousquet are managing to thrive in a warming world and a consolidating industry is a vital and often-overlooked part of that story.
What we talked about: How long the deal to buy Bousquet had been in the works; why the mountain was an attractive asset despite the investments needed to modernize it; Mill Town’s intention to own Bousquet for the long term; whether they would consider rescuing closed-down Blandford; echoes of Arctaris’ rescue of Saddleback; how the partnership with the owners of Berkshire East and Catamount is helping a non-skiing company rebuild Bousquet’s entire on-mountain infrastructure in a matter of months; the snowpipe landmines buried in the hillsides; hiring the right GM; what the triple chair replaces and how construction is progressing; what happened to the yellow and green chairs after they demolished the lifts; additional offseason lift upgrades; the location and setup of the new beginner area; tubing survives; how the ski area altered terrain at the summit to hold snow better and assist with chairlift unloading; the ski area’s current and potential footprint; where we may see future glade development; when the new trailmap and website will drop; this offseason’s massive snowmaking upgrades; the mountain’s water supply; the target opening date; Bousquet’s new grooming fleet; the lodge is closed this year and what skiers will find in its place; why Bousquet joined the Berkshires Summit Pass with Berkshire East and Catamount; whether Bousquet would consider joining the Indy Pass; how the mountain is managing day lift tickets this season; RFID gates are here; Krista’s story of growing up at Bousquet and taking the lessons she learned there all the way to Olympic competition; mastering skiing via the Malcom Gladwell-defined 10,000 hours of bombing the slopes of Bousquet; the ski area’s deep racing legacy; the programs that Krista will run and how she can help the ski area center itself more solidly in the broader skiing community.
Why I thought that now was a good time for this interview: Because with a new ownership group in place, Bousquet is getting the reboot it probably needs to thrive in the decades to come. Any independent ski area – especially a small independent ski area – is going to need some combination of reliable blanket snowmaking, sufficient capital to keep up with maintenance and basic infrastructure upgrades, membership in some kind of broader coalition, and a local population handcuffed to the mountain’s fate. Mill Town brings the first two. Becoming the third Muskiteer [this is why I need an editor] to Berkshire East and Catamount provides the third. The mountain’s crash-landing like the Transformers Ark on the outskirts of Pittsfield provides the final piece, because ask Rangeley what it’s like to be a ski town without a ski area. With a new-used summit chair dropping in and upgrades all over the mountain, Bousquet’s new owners made an offseason statement that they’re here to party, and I wanted to peak in the door to see just how rowdy things were getting.
Why you should go there: There’s a common skier’s mentality that discards small ski areas as a person’s skills improve and they move on to the 42-chairlift monsters humping over the multi-summited mountains on the horizon. Like a snake shedding its skin, these skiers assume the smaller version no longer fits them and should be left behind. I kind of get this: there is nothing quite like getting lost in a vast ski circus on a snowy day, popping out of some glade onto some narrow trail leading to an empty spinning lift planted, it seems, in the middle of some secret wilderness that is yours alone. But there’s something to a small ski area too, to the energy of countless children unleashed and gleeful in their great roving packs, to ripping off a dozen laps in an hour, to never having to consult a trail map, to trimming skiing back to the motion and the sensation that are its basic animal appeals. I know all this because I was the big snake for a while and when I had kids I realized those little ski areas still fit pretty good after all. They’re easier on kids and they’re better for them too, and they’re better for me, because when my daughter and I are cruising around Bousquet, I don’t have that I-wonder-what-the-trees-are-like-today FOMO that rides me at Killington or Sugarbush. And while that’s true of all small ski areas, Bousquet, historic and resurgent and beloved, lies in a special class of must-visit local bumps inextricably tied to Massachusetts and New England skiing culture and lore.
From New England Ski History:
The roots of Bousquet were planted in the ski trains of the 1930s, when New Yorkers would depart from Grand Central Station on New Haven Railroad trains in the early morning hours for a day of skiing on the Bousquet farm in Pittsfield. As the legend goes, Clarence Bousquet installed a rope tow in the spring of 1935, increasingly the area rate from 25 cents to $1.00
A second tow was added for the 1936-37 season, as Bousquet quickly became a well-known ski area. A third tow was likely added for 1937-38, while a fourth debuted for 1938-39. The Hartford Courant declared the area "one of America's finest ski developments," citing the longest rope tow in the world. Read more…
A trail map from (no shit) 1936. I’m not sure if that’s supposed to be fluffly clouds or the Himalayas rising in the background:
A Berkshire Eagle video of helicopters flying summit chair towers earlier this week:
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