Couple to give new life to defunct old ski area in Brandon
BRANDON/HUBBARDTON — The former High Pond Mountain Ski Area that straddles the Brandon-Hubbardton town line is getting a facelift, thanks to a high-end restoration by new owners Peter and Karen Dartley.
Work began in earnest almost immediately after the couple bought the 330-acre parcel for $1.3 million in 2016.
The McKernon Group of Brandon, led by Kevin Birchmore, was hired to do the construction, and Selin and Selin Architecture in Shelburne did all of the design work.
Peter Dartley, 71, spent decades on Wall Street, and was managing director of the now-defunct Pequot Capital Management, Inc., one of the world’s largest hedge funds in its day. Now retired, he said he just does some consulting on the side. The couple also operates the Dartley Charitable Trust — an arts, culture and humanities nonprofit that currently holds $4.32 million in assets, according findthecompany.com.
The couple lives in Manhattan, but have been escaping to Vermont for years. They bought a house in Ludlow in 1981.
“When we bought that house, it was a pasture,” Dartley said. “Now, there’s a forest, a three-acre lake, and a windmill. It’s quiet and secluded. We love Vermont. It’s one of our passions.”
They have a five-year plan for the High Pond property that sounds similar. There is already a small lake called Walker Pond; Dartley said they plan to erect solar panels and a windmill, making the property as self-sustainable as possible.
It is a family project. Their son Christopher is an arborist and avid snowboarder, and he found the High Pond property and urged his parents to have a look.
“He has always wanted to have a sustainable, working farm,” Karen Dartley said.
Although Peter and Karen do not ski or snowboard, son Alec (a painter) and their five grandchildren do.
The couple, married for 48 years, came to see the High Pond property for the first time on the coldest day of the year in February 2016.
“And that’s the day we decided to buy it,” Karen said. “We fell in love with it.”
A LITTLE HISTORY
High Pond Mountain Ski Area dates back to the 1940s. According to the Vermont Lost Ski Areas blog, an article in Vermont Life from 1957 read, “High Pond prides itself on getting minimum snow conditions early. High Pond has a gentle-slope children’s tow.”
The vertical drop was 300 feet with a summit elevation of 1,400 feet.
KAREN AND PETER DARTLEY stand outside one of the buildings at the High Pond Mountain Ski Area, popular for families in the 1960s and 1970s, which they purchased and renovated for their private use. In refurbishing the structures McKernon restored the old wallboards to maintain the original look.
Brandon Reporter photo/Lee J. Kahrs
Many people in the area can remember skiing at High Pond as children, including Kevin Birchmore, who broke his leg skiing there as a kid.
Dartley said he knows there is still a soft spot locally for the old ski hill.
“Every time we’re here, someone stops and wants to talk about the old days,” he said with a smile.
By the 1960s and ’70s, there was a small base lodge, a warming hut, a T-bar and three rope tows, a ski shop and snack bar, and parking for 200 cars. According to the 1973 Ski Guide to the Northeast, rates were $5 for adults, and $4 for kids.
The Dartleys inherited old promotional postcards, brochures and patches when they bought the property. The back of the brochure shows a cartoon goose on skis pronouncing, “We’re not the Biggest… but one of the best!” Below is a map to the area showing the Brandon Inn and Central Park along Route 7, and the now defunct railroad station on Union Street with arrows pointing out of town over Otter Creek. Follow Union Street “6 miles to High Pond Mountain.”
A map showed six High Pond trails: “Just Nice,” “The Run,” “The Chute,” “The Race,” “Hemlock” and “Easy Roll.”
Peter Dartley sat in the living area of the restored Terminal building during a recent interview wearing a gray fleece with a High Pond Ski Area patch sewn to the chest. Their daughter-in-law surprised everyone in the family with fleeces embossed with the old High Pond Ski Area patches.
“The whole family is really excited about this,” Dartley said with a smile.
Dartley will happily sit in the restored terminal building at the base of the new T-bar lift and watch his sons and grandchildren come down the mountain, just like High Pond founder W. Douglass Burden. Legend has it that the wealthy local businessman built the ski area so he could watch people ski from his living room window. He was said to have owned 10,000 acres of land in the High Pond area and built a nature museum on his property, which burned to the ground in 1970.
In fact, the Dartleys’ goal was to preserve as much of Burden’s original buildings as possible. The Terminal building, the former ski patrol building, the old barn and the Alpine restaurant building had all been sitting vacant for decades. Time took its toll and parts of the barn and other buildings that were too far-gone were taken down. But repurposing and rehabilitating old structures is McKernon’s specialty, and a lot of the wood was reused for windowsills, doors, baseboards, and other architectural touches in the Terminal and Alpine buildings.
THE NEW OWNERS of the High Pond Mountain Ski Area aimed to preserve as many as possible of the original buildings erected by ski area founder W. Douglass Burden.
Brandon Reporter photo/Lee J. Kahrs
The Terminal building will act as a gathering place for the family at the base of the T-bar. It has a kitchen, comfortable seating area and a bathroom. The old ticket window is to the left of the front door, and the old T-bar wheel hangs from the ceiling. Two old wooden T-bars were turned into lighting fixtures and hang high 15 feet above the main room.
The Alpine building was moved back from the road, gutted, and rebuilt into a beautiful one-bedroom guesthouse with a full kitchen, living area, and two baths. All of the chinking was replaced and the old wallboards were restored to maintain the original look of Burden’s building.
“We tried to get it to look the way it looked back in the day,” Peter said.
There was a buzz in the skiing community and around Brandon this past fall when an online news item appeared with the headline “Defunct High Pond Ski Area Being Rebuilt.” The article was posted on the New England Ski Industry News website on Oct. 23 and shared locally on social media.
The article included photos of the new Leinter Poma lift equipment that had been delivered to the old ski hill, and mentioned that the old T-bar equipment had been removed.
Most of the excitement created by the article was around speculation that the ski area was going to be restored and re-opened to the public. But Peter Dartley said that was never the plan.
“We have no expertise and no one in the family has an interest in doing that,” he said. “It’s also prohibitively expensive for insurance purposes.”
Also, Dartley said, there is a portion of the property that is designated wetland not far from where the parking would have to be, and state wetland regulations are very stringent.
“The state had been very specific about wetland management,” Dartley said. “We couldn’t really provide parking.”
But overall, Dartley said, the state was very supportive during the construction process, which also involved dealing with the disposal of wet asbestos from the old buildings, as well as old diesel and oil tanks that that had to come out of the ground.
“The state has been phenomenally helpful,” he said.
While the Dartleys would not put a price tag on the restoration, Peter called it “substantial.”
“We could have done this for substantially less if we didn’t want to preserve the original character and nature of the place,” he said.
“We love history,” Karen added, “and we love projects.”
“Burden did a beautiful job of creating something here and when he sold it, unfortunately, it got really run down,” Peter added. “We wanted to bring it back to the way it was.”
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