People line up for the rope tow at Living Memorial Park in West Brattleboro. (Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
People line up for the rope tow at Living Memorial Park in West Brattleboro. (Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
Wednesday January 2, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- Standing near a long ski-tow line, Jake Dixon was all smiles on New Year's Day.

She and others who operate Living Memorial Park's ski area are hoping a busy opening weekend and a big holiday crowd are signs that they can brush off last season's tepid weather and dismal turnout.

"It's a great start," Dixon said. "It bodes well."

There is a long tradition of skiing at the park, with the first ski tow having been built in 1937. The town operated the ski area until economic issues forced its shutdown in 1997.

But volunteers quickly stepped in to fill the void under the label Living Memorial Park Snow Sports Inc. They offer a deal that attracts many families: Ski all day for $5, and kids age 5 and under get in free.

Admissions proceeds represent about a third of what the organization needs to keep the ski area running.

"Another third comes from annual donations, and then we solicit for big gifts," Dixon said.

A $10,000 grant a few years ago turned out to be a "godsend," Dixon said, allowing the group to weather last year's poor attendance.

In the wake of last week's long-awaited snow, the park opened Saturday. And it's been relatively busy.

"We've had 100-plus each day at least," Dixon said.

She added that the organization has been selling season passes. Those go for $200 per family and $75 for individuals.

There's also a punch card granting 12 days of skiing for $50. Unfortunately, that was equivalent to a season pass last winter, when the slope was open for only 11 days of skiing.

With sufficient snow and strong attendance, however, comes a need for additional volunteer help. The slope is open from Thursdays through Sundays and whenever school is out, and Dixon said Living Memorial Park Snow Sports is "always hungry for volunteers" to fill those shifts.

Anyone interested in helping can reach her at 802-254-9541 or via e-mail at jaked@together.net. Also, Living Memorial Park Snow Sports President Milton Gilmore can be reached at 802-257-4074.

The organization has been getting some much-needed help from local high-school students.

"They're great," Dixon said. "We have some very good kids."

They include 15-year-old Zach Rounds, who took a break from his job as a lift loader on Tuesday to dub the ski area "a great place to be." He also serves on the Living Memorial Park Snow Sports board of directors.

"It's great to have snow this early in the season," Rounds said. "I've already skied as much this year as I did last year."

Equally enthusiastic was 14-year-old Brattleboro resident Calvin Gooley, whose family supports the ski slope in many ways.

"It's like having a ski area in my backyard. And it's affordable," Gooley said.

The "affordable" label also attracts people from outside the immediate area to Living Memorial Park's slope. Tim Parent of Danby, Rutland County, stopped by on Tuesday while visiting family in Brattleboro.

"It's not like anything we have in Danby," Parent said. "We've got a mountain but no T-bar."

Visiting the park for the first time on Tuesday was Clarita Shaffer of Greenfield, Mass. She expects to make many return trips with her family.

"This is wonderful. It's so perfect for beginners and families," Shaffer said. "I didn't know it was here."

The ski area -- which will include a terrain park when enough snow accumulates -- is scheduled to be open from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and from noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays.

More information is available at the Living Memorial Park Snow Sports Facebook page.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.