While farther up Handle Road, the Hermitage Inn, which Barnes purchased in 2007, has been open to the public for some time, the end result of the Main Base lodge and the surrounding area was something only seen in drawings. Barnes held multiple public informational sessions to let local residents and business owners voice their concerns, ask questions, and get a good look at his vision. With its timber frames in place, the skeleton of the base lodge has been able to provide a major visual preview of coming attractions.
“One big thing we face is everyone says they’re different, but are they the real deal,” said Reese Pinney, vice president of membership development for the Hermitage. “For Jim, it’s not a vanity project. He has an unbelievable record, and I think that should count for something. We started our first season with 30 members, had 80 the next year, and over 200 now. We expect to be over 300 by the end of this season, so I think the proof is in the pudding.”
Perhaps the biggest piece of progress made by the Hermitage Club on their master plan this past year was the purchase of east tract tax lots from the town of Wilmington, and the coinciding approval for expansion of the recently renamed Deerfield Valley Airport. The Hermitage plans on expanding the airport’s runway to 5,000 feet in the coming year, and signed an agreement with Tradewind Aviation to begin bringing more traffic to the airport, and help attract more members to their club. One selling point for the airport was that the Deerfield Valley is the only place in Vermont with an airport within five miles of two year-round resorts.
The Hermitage has primed 2014 for a bevy of activity as permits for building six of 14 proposed houses in the lower base area, or Stag’s Leap, were approved by the Wilmington Development Review Board this year. Stag’s Leap provides a beginner/intermediate slope, and with a new ski lift in place, connects it to the base lodge as well, where one can then tackle the bigger slopes. Those six houses will be finished in 2014, along with a four-unit condominium development, which will sit to the west of the base lodge. The Hermitage is also planning on developing building lots of two acres or less in high country to the east of the base lodge. The plan is to create living spaces that are all ski-in, ski-out, something that Pinney says creates convenience for members.
The base lodge itself is on schedule to be finished in time for a soft opening in October, and ready for the ski season. Currently the Hermitage Inn is serving as the club’s main lodge, but with only 15 rooms, Pinney says the Hermitage Inn can only do so much, and many members have decided to buy properties and condominiums before they’ve even been built. Barnes’ vision for the base lodge is to make it the most family-friendly place to plan a vacation as possible, complete with a movie theater, bowling alleys, and game rooms.
“We’re a member-driven club. We have a master plan and a lot of it is checking boxes and taking away objections,” said Pinney. “First it was, we need to have the lifts refurbished, then it was we need to connect the inn to the mountain, then it was snowmaking and the lower mountain. There’s nothing we’ve set out to do that we haven’t done, and it increases our credibility.”