Podcast #35: Bolton Valley President Lindsay DesLauriers
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Lindsay DesLauriers, President of Bolton Valley, Vermont
January 15, 2021
Why I interviewed her
Because while plenty of independent, family-run ski areas remain in the Northeast, few have Bolton Valley’s size and stature. For skiing to remain vibrant and accessible, it needs ski areas large enough to be interesting but contained enough to be sustainable. Skiers – especially families – need alternatives to the ever-busier Epic and Ikon resorts. The number of people or companies that know how to manage something as fickle, demanding, complicated, and confusing as a ski resort are few. The number that can do that without mega-corporate backing is even fewer. The DesLauriers, who founded the ski area 55 years ago and improbably hacked it out of the Northern Vermont wilderness, have the institutional knowledge, passion, and community backing to manage, improve, evolve, and maintain the ski area well into the future. I wanted to get a sense of what that family legacy meant and where they intended to take the mountain now that they were firmly back in charge after a 20-year hiatus.
What we talked about
How the construction of I-89 led indirectly to Bolton Valley’s founding; the non-skiing family who founded Vermont’s last large ski area; the ski area’s roots as the everyman’s mountain and how that informs its legacy today; a multi-decade community-building legacy; how and why the DesLauriers reclaimed the mountain after a 20-year absence and the emotional impact of that reunion; growing up at a family-run ski area; bringing back summer; snowmaking upgrades; modernizing the night-skiing lights; hotel renovations; potential lift upgrades (could lift 4 return?); plans for Wilderness; much love for Hall lifts; the benefits of RFID gates; why Bolton Valley has night skiing and how it differentiates the mountain; potential night-skiing expansions; the Bolton Snowglobe; the mountain’s wild access road; the massive original masterplan and how much of that would be possible today; LOL sure try expanding a ski area in Vermont; a big unrelated land acquisition that could eventually be a related land acquisition; my big city ignorance revealed; Bolton’s rocking backcountry scene and heritage; why the mountain rents out touring gear; how the season pass base is weathering Covid; why Bolton Valley joined the Indy Pass and left the Freedom Pass; how the corporatization of large ski areas may ultimately be good for independent mountains like Bolton Valley; this video:
Questions I wish I’d asked
Among the questions I’d prepared that we didn’t have time for: who in the family does what at the ski area? Where could we see possible marked inbounds glade expansion? Does the summit wind turbine generate energy for the mountain or do they sell it? Does the mountain own and maintain the access road? How hard is it to compete when you’re positioned amidst so many corporate-owned ski areas? And various queries about the Covid shutdown in March and modified operations this winter. Next time.
Why I thought that now was a good time for this interview
Heading into ski season, social media Ski Bro chatter hewed toward the optimistic opinion that Vermont would magically relax travel restrictions in time to let us get our shred on. That didn’t happen. The state’s travel restrictions and quarantine requirements remained in place, and Vermont’s ski area operating guidelines piled on additional burdens, like documenting every single person who entered a base lodge. In November, DesLauriers released the video above, distilling the massive business disruption of the spring shutdown and the anticipated reduced volume and expense of adapted Covid ops into a real-talk message to Bolton skiers: this year would be about survival. Several weeks in, with the Christmas season behind us, I wanted to see how her outlook had evolved and how she thought Bolton Valley would ultimately weather this massive test.
Why you should go there
Because Bolton Valley gets the snow of the areas north and south of it without all the attention and crowds, while retaining common threads with all of them. Like Smuggs, it’s a bit underdeveloped and a bit understated, rowdy where you need it to be but a completely comfortable place to let your 10-year-old run free if you’re so inclined. Like Mad River Glen, it’s a bit of a time capsule, but less deliberately so. Like Sugarbush, it’s had periods of steady ownership disrupted by games of ski area musical chairs. Like Stowe, it’s seamlessly connected to the backcountry surrounding it – if you know where to look and how to approach it. In a Northeast flooded with more ski areas than anyone can accurately document, the mountains of Northern Vermont stand out. They are the cultural epicenter of the regional ski scene and the Eastern proving ground for aspiring big-mountain skiers. They get the most snow and house the best terrain. It’s hard to say you’ve skied the east until you’ve skied them all, and Bolton Valley is one of them. Hit it.
A history of Bolton Valley from New England Ski History
Bolton Valley’s lift inventory and history on Lift Blog.
DesLauriers talked about restoring the old Lift 4 at mid-mountain, so skiers could lap the upper-mountain steeps on Vista without skiing all the way back to the base. You can see where this old lift sat in the 1984 trailmap:
Lindsay walks us through Bolton Valley’s Covid protocols:
Check out this Alba Adventures visit to Bolton Valley to get a feel for the area:
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