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Rikert center seeks to add snowmaking

RIPTON — Middlebury College’s Rikert Nordic Ski Center is seeking permission to install snowmaking equipment to maximize winter use of its Ripton trails and ensure prime conditions for the NCAA Skiing Championship events that will be held there next March.
The snowmaking equipment — expected to cost more than $500,000 — would represent a second consecutive year of major investment in the center by Middlebury College. The college last fall put the finishing touches on a new 5-kilometer trail and an upgraded ski shop at Rikert, a 35-year-old facility the institution wants to market more aggressively as a destination for families and winter sports enthusiasts.
“This year being what it was and the industry being what it is, it would be nice if we cold ensure skiing on a regular basis,” said Mike Hussey, director of the Rikert Ski Center, located off Route 125 at the Bread Loaf campus.
Indeed, the recently concluded mild winter provided little snow for the Rikert center and those like it throughout the Northeast. Hussey said that while there were a few bright spots — such as a banner Christmas week boosted by one of the season’s few substantial snowstorms — business was down approximately 60 percent compared to last winter. That’s on par with what other Nordic resorts in the region have reported, according to Hussey.
“We ended up above budget, but below revenues,” he said, explaining that the center was able to pare its costs during the season through reduced heating and personnel expenses.
Middlebury College Winter Carnival’s Nordic ski activities in late February had to be moved to the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe as a result of a lack of snow in Ripton.
With hundreds of student athletes slated to descend upon the Rikert center (and the Middlebury College Snow Bowl just up Route 125 in Hancock) next March for the NCAA Skiing Championships, officials believe the time is right to put in snowmaking equipment. The Ripton Zoning Board of Adjustment is scheduled to review the college’s application on Tuesday, April 10, at 7 p.m. at the town clerk’s office.
Plans call for the snowmaking equipment to harvest water from an on-site pond that has a history of replenishing itself, Hussey noted. He added the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources will have to sign off on the project, which will also require an Act 250 permit.
“If everything works out, we will hopefully be in the installation phase this August,” Hussey said, adding the college will first need to raise funds for the new equipment.
It’s a timetable that would place the equipment on-line for the NCAAs, and for the general benefit of the Rikert center for years to come. Hussey wants more people to discover the facility’s 50 kilometers of trails that permeate the 285-acre block of college-owned land that includes the Bread Loaf campus.
“One year does not a Nordic center make,” Hussey said. “It’s a long-term project.”
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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