The grapevine is buzzing about what's up at Ascutney Mountain Resort, a fine old ski area 6 miles off I-91 in Brownsville, Vt.
Here's what we know: Ascutney won't be operating as a ski area this winter, and its future remains uncertain.
Here's what we have gleaned from a variety of sources, some on the record, some not for attribution but reliable: Dan Purjes and partners Steve and Susan Plausteiner bought Ascutney 17 years ago, at bankruptcy auction, for $1.1 million. A year ago Purjes asked to be bought out; weak credit markets led the Plausteiners instead to turn over their interest in the ski area to their partner.
Purjes is said to have considered various options. These included operating Ascutney himself, finding an operator to run it for him, and selling it outright.
At one point over the summer, various ski industry sources told OnTheSnow, Purjes called other ski resorts and offered to sell various pieces of Ascutney infrastructure, including the area's high-speed detachable quad chairlift.
This sparked some interest, but the cost to remove the lift was pegged at $500,000, making the deal unattractive, the sources said.
Failure to sell the lift may squeeze Ascutney's finances, our sources said, but is a good thing for hopes of reviving the ski area in the future. Without the lift, that future would be problematic.
The Rutland Herald reported on Oct. 16 that a spokesman for Orange Lake Resorts, which runs time shares at Ascutney, said Purjes told the company the ski area would not operate this winter.
"This year definitely no; next year is up for debate," the spokesman, Brandon Scott, said.
It was the first solid report on Ascutney's plans, and quite a bombshell for Vermont.
"It's very disappointing, and a real shame, not to have Ascutney up and running this winter," Parker Riehle, president of Vermont Ski Areas Association, told OnTheSnow.
"I remain hopeful that an operator will come up and take over Ascutney, not this year at this point, but hopefully for the winter of 2011-12. As every day marches by, as you can well imagine, even for a buyer to step forward today, there's a tremendous amount of resources and work that would have to go into getting the resort into operation for the season which is just around the corner now.
"They really have a great operation there, with real estate, ski-in, ski-out lodging, the hotel, and the amenities that make it a smaller version of Smugglers' Notch or Stratton in terms of facilities right slopeside," Riehle said.
What lies ahead? Stay tuned.