(Host) A drawn-out legal battle over the Mount Ascutney ski area meant the southern Vermont resort didn’t open this year.
That’s made a tough economy tougher in West Windsor, where the mountain is located. And reports that the resort’s former creditors are selling off equipment has residents worried about the mountain’s long-term fate.
VPR’s Susan Keese has more.
(Keese) The Brownsville General Store is a community hub in this small town and many are second home owners, here because of the mountain just beyond the store.
But this winter the ski area never opened. Instead, creditors and former Ascutney owner Stephen Plausteiner locked horns in a complex foreclosure action. Brownsville Storekeeper Mark Isenberg says business is down by about a third.
(Isenberg) "Historically throughout the winter there’s a large influx of people here at the counter having breakfast, buying items on their way to and from skiing, after skiing."
(Keese) Isenberg says some skiers have made reservations elsewhere. Other second homeowners have come, but their once-familiar faces have bypassed the store, as they rushed to Killington, Okemo, or Sunapee for a day’s outing.
Lunchtime customers at the Brownsville General Store talk about whether equipment will be sold, including the new detachable high-speed quad chairlift, the only one to the top of the mountain.
Local residents fear the ski area is being gutted and won’t come back.
Glenn Seward chairs the West Windsor select board.
(Seward) "It’s obviously a concern. But again we’ve had assurances from the owner’s representative that they are looking for a new operator. So that’s what we’re clinging to right now."
(Keese) Seward says town officials have been told that a Wall Street investor named Dan Purjes controls the resort.
Court documents show that Purjes and his company, MFW Associates, assumed a large amount of debt owed by Ascutney’s former owners. Purjes’ company acquired the property when those owners defaulted. MFW quickly resold the property to a business associate based in Utah, but Seward says he believes Purjes is still in charge.
Seward says the town has had regular contact with representatives of Purjes. Seward has been assured that while the owners want to recoup their investment, they don’t plan to gut the resort.
(Seward) "They feel that they can get more money by selling the ski area as an operating, viable ski area, not to liquidate it. But obviously we have no assurances of that."
(Keese) The owners are also selling various pieces of equipment and some real estate. An official at the Burke Mountain Resort confirmed that that resort has been talking with Ascutney about buying the high-speed lift, but no deal has been reached.
And the town of West Windsor voted this week to buy a field owned by the resort but used by local residents for recreation.
For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese.
(Host) The town of West Windsor was among the potential purchasers for a piece of land owned by the resort: A 47 acre field, adjacent to the town forest, currently used for recreation. But at a special meeting Tuesday voters said no to that proposal.