By Karen D. Lorentz
When it comes to mountains, Vermont has them all—world class, family fun, and some gems people know little about. Plymouth Notch, located in Plymouth on Route 100 between the giants Killington and Okemo, is one of the latter.
It’s an old-fashioned mountain (formerly known as Round Top Mountain) that has been revived because it offers some truly sweet skiing and riding. There are 28 trails, a 1,300-foot vertical, and a nice variety of terrain on 110 skiable acres plus another 300 acres for backcountry skiing. The Plymouth Notch property encompasses 850 acres with two mountains, Bear Mountain and Salt Ash included.
There’s something else, too—uncrowded slopes on holidays and weekends with snow conditions that don’t get “skied off” and no line for the double chairlift. That’s due to a private-membership-club concept that limits the number of people on the hill.
While that might seem elitist to some, it was a concept born out of necessity—competing with mega resorts wasn’t deemed feasible so the idea of creating a private “niche area” for members was seen as the solution in the late 1990s.
David Panagrossi and several partners purchased the area in October 2010. Panagrossi is the majority owner and club operator.
“We loved the area and didn’t want to see it close. We see value in a ski club for those who work long hours every week and who might be looking for an alternative experience,” Panagrossi said, noting the comfortable feeling in the Lodge, uncrowded trails, and quality snow.
Currently, to help expand awareness of the mountain and club, a special offer has been extended to non-members to “come ski for the day.” This invite to the public is by reservation only and includes lift ticket and lunch in the Lodge (adults $105; kids age 10-18, $75; and kids under 10 ski free with lunch $15).
“The offer was successful during Christmas week when 10 new families were added,” Panagrossi said. While originally conceived for January only, he told the Mountain Times that he was extending the offer for the rest of the 2017 season.
Progress and plans
David Panagrossi was born and raised in New Haven, Conn. He learned to ski in 1971 with his family when he was 4 years old. A graduate of Southern Connecticut State University, he spent 25 years in finance before becoming the operator of the Plymouth Notch Club. He first skied the mountain with his 3-year-old twin girls in 2003 when it was Bear Creek.
Having continued to ski there, he became aware of the prior owner’s difficulties and, thinking the vision to create a winter ski club for families could work with more access to water for snowmaking (2009-10 was a particularly tough year for weather and snow) and creative marketing, Panagrossi and his partners purchased the area.
They began work on plans to reopen and to build a snowmaking pond only to have Tropical Storm Irene, Hurricane Sandy, and lots of rain in 2013 delay the construction. “The pond site is located at the 1500-foot (above sea level) elevation so construction days were limited by state rules and the site had to be closed when it rained,” Panagrossi explained. Completion of the seven million-gallon snowmaking pond and construction of a pumphouse enabled the Plymouth Notch Club to open Dec. 26, 2014, with skiing through March 2015.
Additional snowmaking guns were purchased for more coverage, and several new runs were cut in 2015. The 2015-16 season with its lack of snow proved challenging with only 25 days of skiing.
This winter the area opened on Dec. 26 and a 50-day season is expected. (Plymouth Notch operates on weekends and holidays only.)
Panagrossi works on the mountain, doing myriad jobs from bartender to snowmaker. He also has six full- and part-time employees.
Asked about any housing plans, he said that although Act 250 permits are in place for condos, town permits would need updating and he doesn’t have a timetable for any construction. Townhomes would likely be built in the vicinity of the Lodge, he said, ruling out any spec construction but the possibility of building residences if demand were to materialize.
The Plymouth Notch membership market spans from the Hanover to Ludlow to Killington region and includes people who already have second homes, he added, noting that from their perspective joining a ski club is more appealing than a ski resort as they wouldn’t use other amenities.
In addition to relaxing or dining at the Lodge, which Panagrossi describes as a “home away from home,” and skiing or riding, members can snowshoe on the mountain and can also access the Catamount Trail and backcountry skiing as well as snowmobile through the Calvin Coolidge State Forest.
Membership and midweek visits
Panagrossi hopes to attract up to 250 members (families) and thinks the regional market could fulfill that goal. If reached and the members were agreeable, membership could rise “to 350 families tops,” he said. Any expansion of facilities would be done in accordance with needs and member input, he added.
Currently, there is a promotional membership rate of $6,000 for one-year membership with the initiation fee waived. “If someone continues to be a member next year, a one-time $12,500 joining fee would apply in addition to the annual membership dues,” Panagrossi said.
The mountain can also be rented midweek for corporate events with one recently held Jan. 20 and a charitable Upper Valley Haven event scheduled for Feb. 12. The Dartmouth College Alumni Association has a membership that allows alumni and their families to ski at the mountain three times a year as guests. The membership also allows alumni to request private events midweek during the winter months or anytime during the remainder of the year.
For those needing lodgings, a package is available at On the River Inn, which is located approximately eight miles away in Woodstock.
Fresh tracks lie ahead under the lift at Plymouth Notch.