We need Haystack viable
Aug 26, 2010 | 2272 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
We’ve had a couple of letters recently about the status of Haystack ski area. In each of the letters, the writers remark on the need to open the traIls and put skiers and riders back on the hill. They correctly point out the economic benefits of having an operating, viable ski area once again.

While we couldn’t agree more with the sentiment, there are some practical pitfalls that we see.

First off, the writers also urge Peak Resorts to take the reins and work their magic on Haystack, much like they are currently doing at Mount Snow just up the road. Let’s get the Peak’s ownership question out of the way right now. It’s not going to happen.

This spring Peak officials unveiled a master plan for the next 30 years’ worth of development at Mount Snow. Nowhere did those plans include adding Haystack to their operations. Now, we can’t speak for Peak officials, nor do we know what they’re thinking, but they don’t appear to have their eye on Haystack at all. That’s not to say things may change, but currently Peak Resorts appears to have little interest in ever operating Haystack. In fact, there are probably plenty of folks left at Mount Snow who remember what a drain on resources Haystack was the first time around. We seriously doubt that scenario will play out.

In fact, we don’t see anything happening at Haystack until Mount Snow gets its snowmaking water supply expansion resolved. For those with short-term memory loss, Haystack was supposed to reopen for limited skiing this past season. It was in December when officials from Mount Snow went to court to stop 1 Cornell Way, Haystack’s current owners, from drawing water out of Mirror Lake, Haystack’s snowmaking pond. That was because Mount Snow had an agreement to draw water out of the pond, based on the 2006 sale of Haystack to 1 Cornell. Without recapping the specifics of the court fight, suffice to say that Haystack was only open for one weekend of skiing.

In our opinion, it will take efforts on multiple fronts to realistically open Haystack in the foreseeable future. Mount Snow must gain permits and then build its West Lake snowmaking pond. Only then can it release its claim on snowmaking water from Mirror Lake. At the same time, 1 Cornell Way must find a way to improve the facilities at Haystack so it can follow through with the plan laid out in 2009, which is to slowly bring Haystack back to operation. Only then can the third leg of the stool be put back under the resort, and whoever owns Haystack can begin to sell real estate. Of course, that’s the real wild card. Who knows when the real estate market will ever come back?

Of course there may be other options for Haystack.

Perhaps a skier-owned mountain, similar to Mad River Glen or Magic Mountain, where shares are sold to raise capital? Perhaps, but it will take a concerted effort to raise money and awareness, provided the current owner can be persuaded to sell to a grass-roots group at a penny on the dollar. And then there’s that Byzantine agreement with Mount Snow. That would have to be renegotiated to allow for such an arrangement.

Perhaps there is an angel with deep pockets out there, one who wants to run a ski area. Sure, that’s a bit of a pipe dream, but stranger things have happened. One thing is for sure, it won’t be someone who will be looking for a quick buck. Haystack has a history of bad timing in the real estate market and an inability to be profitable in its mountain operations. Whoever buys the resort would have to have staying power to operate it at a loss for five, or possibly 10 years, before seeing any kind of return.

Don’t get us wrong. We’ve said repeatedly Haystack is critical to the long-term economic viability of the region. A successful Haystack is one of the keys to restarting the economic engine of the valley. We just don’t see much hope on the short-term horizon. But keep writing those letters.
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