In Dummerston, big plans for an old ski area
Keane Aures, a Connecticut attorney who is the manager of North Chair Brewing and South Chair Distilling, talks with abutters prior to a preliminary site visit at the former Maple Valley Ski Area in West Dummerston. Aures’ group, Sugar Mountain Holdings, LLC, hopes to turn the base lodge at the long-shuttered ski area into a brewery and distillery.

In Dummerston, big plans for an old ski area

A brewery and distillery may be the next use for the former Maple Valley Ski Area — but not skiing

WEST DUMMERSTON — More than three years after the property was sold, plans for the former Maple Valley Ski Area are finally starting to take shape.

Sugar Mountain Holdings LLC of Weatogue, Conn., which bought the long-defunct 375-acre ski area on Route 30 in 2018 for $745,000, hopes to renovate the base lodge into a brewery and distillery with a tasting room, seating up to 150 people. The lodge would also be used as an event space for weddings, concerts, and other gatherings.

But before these plans happen, the company will have to go through the state's Act 250 land-use permitting process.

Approximately 30 people showed up for a preliminary hearing site visit on Dec. 2 convened by the Dummerston Development Review Board, and most were seeking party status to weigh in on the project at future hearings.

Keane Aures, a Connecticut attorney who is senior counsel in the Hartford office of the law firm of Gordon & Rees, is a member of the Sugar Mountain ownership group. He is also the manager of North Chair Brewing and South Chair Distilling, which will be located in the lodge area once renovations to the base lodge are completed.

During the Dec. 2 site visit, Aures outlined the specifics of what will be going on at Maple Valley.

Potential in potent potables

According to documents filed by Sugar Mountain with the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, the project plan received initial approval from the Development Review Board in December 2019.

The plan calls for a 1,900-square-foot distillery production area and a 3,400-square-foot tasting room. The two facilities are expected be open seven days a week. The site will have no kitchen or food service area, but it will have space for three or four food trucks when the tasting room is open.

A new pavilion for special events would be built, as well as a whiskey barrel storage barn and a wastewater pre-treatment facility, while the former ski school building will be demolished.

The brewery and distillery's wastewater will go into an underground storage tank, which would be regularly pumped out and sent to a wastewater treatment plant. The septic system for the main building will be upgraded, and the spent grain from the brewing and distilling process will be composted.

The gravel parking lot near the West River that was formerly used by Maple Valley skiers would be converted into a grass-covered parking area. A pedestrian tunnel underneath Route 30 that connects the lower parking lot with the old base lodge would remain.

Skiing won't be coming back, but Aures said hiking and mountain bike trails on the site would remain for outdoor recreation.

According to the Act 250 application, when the site is fully operational, the brewery and distillery are predicted to generate more than $200,000 in state sales and liquor taxes annually and about $47,000 in property tax.

That figure is based upon an estimated increase in the assessed value of the site from its current $1,477,300 to approximately $2.5 million after the improvements. In this scenario, at least 12 people would be employed full-time at the site.

A long history

Maple Valley was built by Terry Tyler in 1963 during the boom years for Vermont skiing. But the snow droughts and energy crises of the 1970s, combined with the growth of the larger, fancier ski resorts such as Mount Snow and Stratton, put little ski areas such as Maple Valley into a fatal financial decline.

When Maple Valley was last open in 2000, it had 16 trails and 365 acres of skiable terrain and operated two double-chair lifts and a T-bar lift. It featured a vertical drop of 1,000 feet.

The last owner of the property was Nicolas Mercede of Stamford, Conn., whose MVS Associates acquired the property at a foreclosure auction in 1997. After Maple Valley ceased operations, the ski area sat idle and attracted little interest from potential buyers.

There was a flurry of activity in 2011, when Mercede filed a permit with the Development Review Board to turn Maple Valley into a year-round resort with mountain bike trails and music concerts in the summer.

After complaints from abutters about noise and light pollution, and concerns about how many events a year would take place at the ski area, Mercede withdrew his permit application, and the resort returned to its mothballed status.

Mercede died in 2018, and his estate put the ski area up for sale.

When Aures first met with the Selectboard in 2018 after Sugar Mountain bought Maple Valley, he quickly dampened hopes of bringing skiing back. He said then that because the existing infrastructure was in such poor condition, it would take at least a decade to restore it to working order.

Since then, Sugar Mountain brought Stevens & Associates on board to determine the feasibility of turning the old base lodge into a brewery and distillery.

The firm has reached out to the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation for assistance in lining up resources for the proposal.

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