At a time when big resorts are eating up small ones like blue whales dining on krill, contrarian Vermont has a different tale to tell.
The story starts more than 50 years ago, back in 1966. When the state of Vermont turned part of the family farm into an Interstate off-ramp, Ralph DesLauriers and his dad bought 8,000 acres of mountain land and built Bolton Valley Resort with the payout they received. It was the closest downhill skiing to Burlington (Vermont’s only big city), was just off I-89, offered night skiing, and it looked like it couldn’t fail.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go as expected and, after filing for bankruptcy, the ski resort was sold in 1997. The era of DesLauriers ownership was over, but the resort’s problems were not. Bolton Valley changed hands, then changed hands again. And again. To anyone with an ounce of impartiality, Bolton Valley seemed like a doomed venture.
Thankfully, when it comes to Bolton, Ralph DesLauriers has not even a quarter ounce of impartiality. And this month, at age 82, flanked by his daughter and son, he declared to the world that he, his children, and the group of local investors he assembled, had bought back Bolton Valley.
Oh, and not just bought it back — he and his investment team aim to bring it back. They plan to invest heavily in snowmaking, amenities, the hotel and restaurant. They intend to offer summer activities again. And to keep skiing affordable to Vermont families. In Ralph’s words, “It’s our way of giving back to our community.”
Just as Ralph’s dad brought in his son on the original Bolton Valley Resort, this time Ralph is partnering with daughter Lindsay and son Evan. They’re backed by half a dozen investors, many of whom seem equally enthralled with keeping Bolton Valley open. Thomas Kelliher is one. He skied Bolton Valley as a kid and still lives there. He said, “In a year when major corporations are buying up Vermont ski resorts, Bolton Valley returns to its roots with the DesLauriers family. Being able to be part of this ski community and make a positive difference means a lot to me.”
What have they bought? Roughly 800 acres, six lifts, a 64-room hotel, ten condo units, four restaurants, a small store and deli, and a big indoor sports center. They also have rights for cross-country and backcountry skiing and hiking in Mount Mansfield State Forest, which borders the ski area.
Appropriately, the intended customer of the new Bolton Valley is the Vermont family. Evan DesLauriers put it this way: “Growing up, we could ski the whole mountain as kids, and our parents never worried. We don’t want to change any of that. Starting this summer, we will embark on a gradual, multiyear plan to improve the facilities, offer more amenities to our guests, and bring summer back to the mountain. And we’re committed to doing it in a way that keeps Bolton accessible and affordable for Vermonters.”
Still, the big question is this: Bolton Valley has had more ups and downs. Can it work this time around?
Robert Mulcahy, former president of Smugglers’ Notch, another northern Vermont ski resort, thinks it can. “I have known Ralph for many years. He and his family — along with George Potter, Bolton Valley’s general manager — will do a fantastic job in reinvigorating Bolton Valley ski area. No one knows that mountain better than Ralph, and he will do everything he can to make it a successful venture.”
Ralph may view the buyback more of a calling than a venture. Here’s how he put it: “When I built Bolton Valley back in the ’60’s, I made it my mission to give every Vermont child the opportunity to ski. We established after-school programs where kids could take the bus up after school and learn to ski – and tens of thousands of kids … have learned to love skiing at Bolton Valley. It’s one of the things I’m most proud of, and it’s that same family-centered mission and love of Vermont that’s driving me and my kids back into this business.”