Brewery on tap but skiing on hold at Maple Valley

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DUMMERSTON — If it's even possible, it could take up to a decade before snow sports return to Maple Valley Ski Area.

"I have hiked up and down that mountain a number of times," said Keane Aures, who represents a group of investors that recently purchased the former ski area. "The infrastructure for the mountain hasn't been kept up."

Sections of piping for the snow-making system are missing and the lift equipment itself is so outdated it's probably impossible to get it permitted for re-use, Aures told the Reformer on Monday.

"We would have to start from scratch," he said.

On May 23, Sugar Mountain Holdings completed its purchase of the 375-acre property from MVS Associates for $745,000. According to the Vermont Secretary of State's Office, Sugar Mountain Holdings, which is based in Weatogue, Conn., is "member managed." Aures, spokesman for Sugar Mountain, is the senior counsel in the Hartford office of the law firm of Gordon & Rees and specializes in construction law. He told the Reformer that the investors wish to remain anonymous at this time.

Aures spends much of his free time in southern Vermont. His aunt and uncle, Bill and Patti Pusey, own and operate Shearer Hill Farm Bed and Breakfast, which is five miles from the center of Wilmington on Shearer Hill Road. During ski season, he can often be found skiing with his cousins at Mount Snow.

Aures introduced himself to the Dummerston Select Board during its June 20 meeting. Aures told the board members the business plan for Maple Valley is to develop an energy-efficient, sustainable brewery and distillery and have it up and running within one to two years and to have a productive vineyard within three to five years. However, he noted, it could take eight to 10 years to reopen the ski area.

"The ski mountain infrastructure needs a complete overhaul," Aures told the Reformer. "If the businesses I've described can do well enough to invest back into the mountain, and if we can get enough local support and people want to ski there, we'd love to get it up and running. But it's going to take time and money."

Aures said he felt it was important to visit with the Select Board and explain what Sugar Mountain hopes to do with the property.

"Community support is very crucial to any project," said Aures. "Why would you want to force something the community doesn't want? That's your customer base. Nobody is going to travel from Colorado to ski at Maple Valley."

"He's a personable fellow," said Dummerston Select Board Chairman Zeke Goodband. "He exuded a certain knowledge and confidence and I think he will be successful."

Goodband said whatever happens at Maple Valley, it is bound to be good for the town.

"Everyone was speculating on what might happen," he said. "I don't think anybody had thought of this, but I think everyone is pleased."

The first step, said Aures, is bringing on board an engineering firm and an architect to determine whether Maple Valley's base lodge can serve as a brewery and a distillery.

Aures also hopes to grow corn, barley and wheat on the property for use in the distillery and brewery.

"You can't grow enough corn on the side of a mountain to generate much product, but the more local and sustainable you make it, the better," he said.

Aures believes an old apple orchard on the mountain can also be reclaimed.

"It is quite overgrown and not cared for," he said. "But I would love to use local apples in what we plan to make."

Aures said there are no plans to develop the property for housing, though he might like to build a small "camp house" for himself.

With the help of the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, he has been exploring resources in the region that are available to entrepreneurs.

"They've been really great so far; very helpful and very accommodating."

Aures said once he gets out of the planning stages, he will need to hire people, but at this point, he has no idea how many jobs will be available.

"It could take a while. Nothing happens overnight."

"He's obviously done a lot of research," said Goodband. "He has apparently thought this through and put a lot of effort into it."

Maple Valley Ski Area on Route 30 has sat empty for the past 18 years. In 2011, MVS Associates, based in Stamford, Conn., and represented by Nicholas Mercede, proposed a four-season resort at the former ski area. In addition to skiing, Mercede proposed a long list of possible activities including mountain biking, hiking, paint ball, foliage viewing, archery camps, antique car shows, dances and movies.

However, the Dummerston Development Review Board ruled the application did not have enough details for the board to make a decision. In 2013, Mercede returned to the DRB with a revised application, but he was met with resistance from neighbors who were concerned about noise and lighting.

Mercede, 90, died in Stamford, Conn., on Jan. 19.

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or raudette@reformer.com.

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