Bear Creek (now Plymouth Notch)

Bear Creek
(now Plymouth Notch)

I live down the road from a closed ski area. It makes me sad every time I drive by it. Originally opened as Round Top in 1964, the area closed in 1981, reopening as Bear Creek, a semi-private resort, in 1998 (semi because they sold tickets to the public on certain days), only to close again in 2010.

But change is in the wind: the mountain is getting a new lease on life, opening again later this year as Plymouth Notch, a private ski area. Get out your wallets, folks, because here’s what it’ll cost to join: $25,000 per family, plus $7,000 in annual dues, and a $1,000 minimum spent on food and beverage each year. Membership is currently set at  250 families.

Yeah, a little steep for my budget.

Private ski areas are nothing new. You can find them all over the place. Probably the most famous is the Yellowstone Club in Montana, a lavish resort by anyone’s standards. Members must pay a $250,000 deposit and $16,000 in annual dues, and are required to buy a house (starting at $3.5 million) or at least an empty lot (from $1.2 million). Here in Vermont, we have The Hermitage Club, located at the old Haystack ski area. This is pricier than Plymouth Notch, though not as high as Yellowstone: $65,000 buys you a Family Legacy membership, with an annual dues of $5,600. Real estate opportunities abound, as well.

Plymouth Notch is starting to look like a bargain.

The attractions of a private ski area are considerable. You don’t have to worry about crowds or lift lines. You get concierge type service. The staff treats you like royalty. Plus many of these places offer extras like spa services, gourmet restaurants, and off-season sports, like golf, tennis, or swimming.

Me, I hate crowds and will go to great lengths to avoid them. That’s why I limit my skiing to mid-week, and why I’m pretty careful about where I go and when. A private ski area actually sounds pretty sweet. But somehow, the exclusivity of these clubs makes me a bit uneasy. Are they any different than a private golf or yacht club? No. This is America. You can pretty much do what you want with your money. And if you want to use it to join a mountain so you don’t have to rub shoulders with the riffraff, it ain’t nobody’s business but your own. So why the uneasiness?

To be honest, I’m not sure. Skiing is already an exclusive sport. Lift tickets, the price of equipment, and even the cost of getting to the mountain already keep many people from taking it up. Private ski clubs, I think, add yet another layer of exclusivity to the mix. They’re not part of the community at large, and their main objective is to keep people (read anyone who isn’t ultra-rich) out. It’s the “more for me, less for you” mentality that turns me off; it just seems antithetical to the culture of skiing. Plus it seems just so, I don’t know, over-the-top and excessive. And that just rubs me the wrong way.

Then there’s the problem of viability. Both the Yellowstone Club and Bear Creek have a history of bankruptcy. And an earlier incarnation of Haystack as a private area closed because of low real estate sales and high capital costs. For private areas, the reliance on real estate funding plus huge overhead can lead to the inevitable use (or abuse) of debt-financing and leverage — the same problems that precipitated the mortgage crisis a few years back. So a difficult business model to  manage. And if the area goes bankrupt, what does that mean for the people who buy in? Or for the future of the area, itself? Questions to ponder.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy to see Bear Creek/Plymouth Notch reopen. And if this is a way to get marginal or defunct ski areas back into the mix, I’m all for it. Come to think of it, wouldn’t a Mount Diva for Ski Divas and their guests be ultra, ultra cool? It’s all a matter of perspective, I guess. And what you have in your bank account.