DUMMERSTON—Keane Aures, the new owner of Maple Valley Ski Area, appeared at the June 20 Selectboard meeting to share his plans for the long-defunct ski resort.
“It will be a small, energy-efficient, sustainable farm,” growing crops for the on-site brewery, distillery, and winery, Aures said. In addition, he plans to restore an old apple orchard on the land, and eventually to reopen the ski trails.
Maple Valley, located on Route 30 in West Dummerston, was built in 1963 and for nearly 40 years operated as a ski resort with 16 trails, 365 acres of skiable terrain, and a vertical drop of 1,000 feet. After struggling to compete with larger resorts like Mount Snow and Stratton, Maple Valley closed after the 1999-2000 season.
Other than one attempt at turning it into a year-round resort in 2011, which ended at the permitting phase, there has been little commercial interest in the property.
On May 23, Sugar Mountain Holdings LLC of Weatogue, Conn., purchased Maple Valley for $745,000.
Selectboard members told Aures they had received questions from residents about plans for Maple Valley once news of the sale became public.
“People are curious,” said Board member Jerelyn Wilson.
This surprised Aures.
“There’s been a little more interest about it than I thought there would be,” he said. “It’s been vacant and run down, so I didn’t know if anybody really cared about it. It’s nice to see that people really do care about it."
Aures told Board members he hasn’t spoken to any neighbors or the press about his plans. “I haven’t told anybody anything about anything because I wanted to come talk to you guys first,” he said.
So far, Aures has a business plan and preliminary drawings, and has begun a feasibility study and will soon work with architects on the design.
He said restoring the ski trails will take awhile, possibly 8 to 10 years, and will depend on revenue from the brewery, winery, and distillery to support it.
The entire skiing infrastructure at Maple Valley is in disrepair. The lifts are in such bad shape, Aures noted, that to get the state permit to operate them, they must be completely rebuilt.
“As a stand-alone ski mountain in its current condition, it’s not a viable ski mountain,” Aures said.
The lodge, Aures noted, is in good condition, and will house the brewery and distillery. Small plots of corn, wheat, and barley, for making beer and whiskey, will surround the lodge.
Across Route 30, Aures plans to grow grapes for the winery, but said he will set the arbors back far enough from the riverbank to avoid erosion.
Aures told Selectboard members he didn’t have an exact timeline for production, and the process for receiving state and federal permits is “long [and] drawn-out,” he said. “I’m hoping that next summer [or] fall, we could have something up and running."
When Aures told Selectboard members he lives and practices law in Connecticut, Wilson asked how often he would be on-site. Aures said he is in the process of moving to Massachusetts and winding down his practice.
“I’ll be here all the time,” and will commute from his new home, he said.
Aures told Board members he doesn’t plan to hire any staff, “at least for the first year, because there’s nothing to sell, nothing to do."
If possible, Aures wants to power the entire operations using sustainable energy such as solar panels, geothermal energy for the lodge, and “a small windmill or two at the top of the mountain,” he said.
Selectboard member Rachel Glickman suggested Aures approach the Dummerston Energy Committee.
Aures asked if the town would “support this kind of development.”
Glickman and Board Chair Zeke Goodband told Aures the Development Review Board and the Zoning Administrator would help him with conditional use permits. Wilson and Glickman, speaking as residents, expressed their excitement for the project.
Glickman pointed out that the Whetstone Station Restaurant and Brewery’s Kampfires Campground outpost and Hermit Thrush Brewery’s distribution center are both in Dummerston. With the plans for Maple Valley, “we’re becoming an epicenter of brew-pub culture,” she said.
Wilson asked if Aures’ intention for Maple Valley is “a pub for locals,” or “bringing tourism into Dummerston.” She noted there’s no “gathering place” in town, other than at events.
“I’d say both,” said Aures. “It’s your mountain [...] I want it to be a place where people have community pride in it.”