What It Takes To Own Your Own Ski Lodge

The dream of many a skier is to one day own a piece of the industry that captures so much of his time and money. But a private slope or guess lodge almost always remain just dreams.

Usually, the development of skiing as an industry is undertaken by groups of professional investors. Occasionally, however, genuine skiers will edge into the business, although almost always on a very modest scale. The following is an account of such an instance.

Lee Fletcher, 28 years old and the sole veterinarian in Windsor, Vermont, and Tom Davis, age 27, and the president of a lumber company are not typical of the young men living in the ski country around the Twin State Valley area of Vermont and New Hampshire. Both are young, married, college graduates, ambitious-and willing to take a financial risk.

Recently, they formed a partnership to build a ski lodpe at the base of Mt. Ascutney, a new and relatively unknown ski area. Together, they purchased a 150-year-old farm and invested $25,000 into converting it to a dormitory-style lodge with private's rooms. They raised the capital through savings, friends, banks and notes from local businessmen. As late as Nov. 30, they were still spending every free hour they had to tend to the many frustrating details that develop when a "crash" building project is undertaken.

Fletcher, a thin, wiry individual who seems unable to stand in the same spot for more than ten seconds, explains why he and Davis took on the risk of the lodge.

"Both of us are skiers," he says, "and when we learned this farm was for sale right at the base of this ski slope we just couldn't pass up the opportunity to buy land that might never again be for sale."

He went on to explain: "We could see a lot of potential in this area. The ski facilities themselves right now have some of the best expert and intermediate runs in the state, and yet the mountain is still less than half developed. The corporation that owns the area is putting in year-round facilities with plans for an 18-hole golf course. When you put this together with the growing use of this part of Vermont as a horse-riding center, you can imagine the popularity of the area in five years."

With a wry smile he added, "We wanted to grab this chance before the money men from outside moved in. Let's face it -- my future as a veternarian is limited because of the decline of farms around here, and Tom (Davis) has always had a business philosophy of diverse investments. We just decided it was a good time to get into other things to supplement our current income."

The Future

Both men admit there is an element of risk involved. They are aiming for a mixed college crowd, but the area, despite the quality of its trails, is still little known by college people. Their prices are low -- starting at $4 per person for bring-your-own sleeping bag accommodations, and it will take a steady volume to make the venture pay a good return.

But other people feel they have made the right move. John Howland, the general manager of the Mt. Ascutney Ski Area, admires their spirit and feels they are in solidly on the ground floor of an area that could end up with more skiers than accommodations to house them.

Considering this qualified opinion (the area turned a profit with its very first year of full operations last season) with the facts that the state of Vermont is spending heavily on road improvement in the area in anticipation of an expanding tourist industry, and that soon a nearby exchange to the Interstate Turnpike will put Boston less than two and one-half hours away, the future doesn't look too risky at that.

The First Season

For the first season, Davis and his attractive wife Linda will play the part of full-time hosts and chaperons. The lodge will serve regular meals and will have a bottle club in the converted cellar with regular entertainment. For sightseers, the superbly modern lodge house in the ski area itself offers matchless scenic views while the picture post-card hamlet of Brownsville Center is only 100 yards away.

Eventually, the two partners plan on converting the sprawling barn out back to a full steak house and night club.

"We've designed this place to be clean, comfortable, and something with the atmosphere of real Vermont," Fletcher says. "A place to have fun, relax, and enjoy skiing on some great slopes without shelling out a fortune. We plan on getting people here who can have a good time at a low cost, and who will keep coming back to us."

Turning his gaze to the towering mountain and the gentle fields that allow a skier to finish the day by skiing right to the back door of the lodge, he concluded, "I've got a lot of hopes for this idea, but it's impossible to say just how big it's going to be. But at least I'll never have to look back and wonder what would have happened because I didn't take the chance while it was there."

Driving through the gentle rolling mountains of Vermont, many skiers dream of one day owning their own share of the sport that has so swiftly captured the imagination of the American public. Most of the time-but not always-this thought remains but a dream.