More than 287 kindergarten-aged children and younger had the opportunity to learn to love the winter sports of skiing and snowboarding last winter by taking advantage of the free lift tickets to ski or snowboard at Living Memorial Park Snow Sports in Brattleboro. For older siblings and parents, the $5 fee for a daily ticket made a family outing to the hill both affordable and a wonderful opportunity for all to get out and enjoy time together.
This tradition of budget-friendly, outdoor family entertainment has been a winter treasure of the Brattleboro area for almost 20 years. Since 1997, the park has been open thanks to the efforts of a dedicated group of community volunteers who devote hours of their time and effort to not only maintaining and operating the ski space, but also finding the funds to keep the facility up and running.
“Every year we have individuals that are new to the area and are just discovering us. The board wants to keep the hill viable for what it gives back to the community,” said Barbara Gilmore, treasurer of the Living Memorial Park Snow Sports board, who oversees the operation of the hill. “This group gives their time to make this successful and they have fallen in love with the area and want the hill to be affordable and accessible for our community and the surrounding area.”
The dedication of the volunteer core is what enables the prices to remain low and the hours to guarantee a wide variety of opportunities to get out and ski or ride. On just a regular winter week there needs to be at least 28 volunteers to cover all the hours the park is open to staff the loading zone, base and summit, plus a certified ski patrol volunteer on-hand to ensure safety. Additional volunteers come to make snow and check on equipment, and in the fall and spring there are larger efforts to prepare for the beginning of the season or tear down after it ends.
“We are constantly looking for volunteers,” Gilmore said. “The more hands we have the easier it is for us to succeed and makes the load easier for everyone. Sometimes people will walk up to the window and say, ‘I love this place! How can I help?’ and we rapidly take down their name!”
Although the hill has been available for skiing for decades, in the 1990s the town of Brattleboro was forced to discontinue operation of the ski area due to budget concerns. Within a few years, as Gilmore recalled, a group got together and realized a special place was sitting idle in essentially their backyard, and pledged to open the ski facility back up to the community.
“To bring it back, all the equipment was idle and had to be brought out of retirement and gone over and oiled and inspected,” Gilmore said. “Brush needed to be cut at the top, the castle at the summit had to be rebuilt, the base station needed to be spruced up and we needed to install a telephone line to communicate from the top to the bottom plus a speaker system for announcements.
“It took a lot of coordination and community involvement. Then money was raised in order to purchase a groomer which had to be picked up in Canada.”
Funding for major equipment seemingly could have derailed active operation of the hill at any time from 1997 until now. However, from the initial purchase of a snow groomer to replacing the haul rope, to buying the snow guns that assist in making snow, every time a major expense has arisen generous donors and the community have stepped forward to meet the need.
“About four years ago, the groomer needed to be replaced. We received a call from an anonymous donor who put a challenge out that if the community raised half the needed funds in two to three months, he would pay for the other half. We raised the community half in four weeks,” Gilmore said.
“When the haul rope needed to be replaced, for about $20,000, we received a call from a citizen who said we’ll do a plunge at The Marina and all you need to get are pledges. We raised $11,000 to pay toward the tow rope from the community ready to take the plunge. It is a wonderful community and very generous.”
With the support of the neighbors and the volunteer corps, the ski and boarding area is open on Thursday and Friday afternoons, from 3 to 9 p.m., Saturdays, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sundays and holidays from noon to 4 p.m. One side of the hill is for gliding down while the on other a small terrain park gives daredevils the chance to practice.
“The thing we offer is a safe, beginning to intermediate level hill for families,” Gilmore said.
In addition to the low cost of lift passes, on three separate Thursdays during the season instructors from Mount Snow arrive to offer free lessons in both skiing and snowboarding. There is also a warming hut and a snack shack with items like hot chocolate for just $1.
“So many people come up and say thank you for doing this. They are extremely grateful. Parents know this is a safe place for kids to ski. Parents who drop their children off know their kids will be there when they return, have a great time and are in a safe area,” Gilmore said.
“Any time you can walk away with only $5 out of your pocket and ski for six hours is a good thing,” Gilmore continued. “Where else can you go with your family for a whole day that is that affordable?”
To learn more about the Living Memorial Park Snow Sports ski area or how to volunteer, visit online at vtsnowsports.org. For every three-hour shift that volunteers complete, they are eligible to receive a free pass to ski.