Then & Now: Haystack Mtn. Vs. The Hermitage Club

It was a long time ago, during a forgotten era known as the nineties, that I would find myself up the road from the mountain I had sworn servitude, all in the hopes to find some levity and some joy without having to fight back an onslaught of other peasants.

I think that was about as dramatic as I could make the opening paragraph. What did you think of that? Did I hook you as a reader? I hope that I did.

Anyway, yes, back in the 90s I worked at Mount Snow, which was part of the American Skiing Company at the time. If I wasn’t at work or at school, I was skiing at Mount Snow, taking the ride up to Killington, as it was part of the A.S.C., as well, or heading up to the true sister mountain of Mount Snow…Haystack Mountain.

Haystack Moutain is located in Wilmington, Vermont, just a few minutes up Handle Rd. from Mount Snow. Though it opened for the 1964-65 winter, by the 90s it was part of the American Skiing Company and packaged with Mount Snow. Actually, it would be better to say that it was used as an overflow mountain during the weekends and holidays so Mount Snow might not get overcrowded during those busier times.

Though smaller than Mount Snow when it comes to the number of trails or the amount of skiable terrain, it’s very close when it comes to total vertical. Beyond that, being as close as it is to Mount Snow, the weather and the snow is practically the same.

However, I remember Haystack having an old-school vibe to it. Though it was part of the corporate ski industry machine at this point, the facilities weren’t getting the modern makeovers that Mount Snow was getting. I don’t remember any significant renovations to the base lodges or lifts, or even parking lots at that time. It felt like the independent ski hill that it had been for most of its operating time, to that point.

I think you all know what I mean. If you’re like me, you like visiting the smaller, independent mountains that no one has heard of or even knows how to get to. The smell of the classic lodges and the sights and sounds of older-style double and triple chairs that chug along at a slower pace. The places that feel cozier and connected to the people than the larger mountains with all kinds of modern amenities. The places that have a bit more soul in their skiing and riding than other places.

That’s what Haystack always felt like to me when we would visit it.

Back when we worked for Mount Snow, we were in high school. So, for those times that we had off during the holiday weeks (they can’t make a teenager work the whole week straight, you know?), we would head up the road to Haystack to take advantage of the fewer visitors that would go over there.

Side note, that’s something I never understood. Mount Snow never hid the fact that Haystack was open on the weekends and holidays for overflow. That anyone could head over there instead of hanging out at Mount Snow. It was on all the snow and trail reports and I think it was also on radio commercials and other advertising. Yet, most people would still stay at Mount Snow for skiing and riding, no matter how crowded it was. I never understood why and I still don’t.

As I was beginning to say, we would head over to Haystack as much as we could. The lack of people always made for a good time. One could get as many runs as they wanted on any trail that they wanted, and really at any speed that they wanted because there were not enough people to get in the way.

The runs were also as easy or as challenging as one might expect. Again, there may not be as many trails as Mount Snow, but there is a pretty good mix of terrain from beginner to expert.

It was also quiet. If part of your skiing and riding adventures is wanting to just be out in nature, this was the place to do it. The sounds of the breeze, the sounds of the trees, and even the sounds of one’s skis were always first and foremost. Again, not a lot of people means not a lot of noise. Haystack, though accessible from a paved road, is a few miles away from Route 100, so there isn’t a lot of traffic noise, either. But then, I guess that holds true when one is on the summit of any ski hill. The noise from the road doesn’t always reach our ears that high up. But in the case of Haystack, there isn’t a lot of traffic noise, anyway.

Now, I’m sure that I could go on and on like this, trying to oversell a mountain that I skied at just over 20 years ago, but that really isn’t the point of this article. The point is this…if it was so cool back then when it was part of one company, is it still just as cool today?

Since then, Haystack has changed ownership as all of the American Skiing Company mountains have. Those changes lead to something I thought would never work in Southern Vermont…the mountain becoming a private ski club. While the private model didn’t work the first time out, currently the mountains operations are full steam ahead.

The Hermitage Club at Haystack Mountain is very much a country club, just for snow sports enthusiasts and not golf enthusiasts. Well, I’m sure some of the members play golf, too, but you know what I mean. Speaking of which, The Hermitage Club no longer owns the Haystack Country Club. The Hermitage Club is all about skiing and riding.

Now, this article isn’t about me trying to sell you on the Hermitage Club or give out a lot of information about the club. If you would like some more information about the club, you can head over to the Ski Rex Media Podcast, available on many of the most popular podcast apps, and check out S3E26 - The Hermitage Club, Vermont’s Private Ski Club With Special Guest, Bill Benneyan, Exec. Director/General Manager or you can click here to listen to it. In that episode, Bill and I talk about the past, present, and future of the Hermitage Club, as well as what it takes to join. We also talk about the stereotypes of the private ski mountain and how the Hermitage Club fits into or breaks those stereotypes.

A little bit of a spoiler for that episode, and for this article in a way, is that I would 100% buy a membership to the mountain if I were able to. No doubt in my mind. It’s a spoiler for the podcast episode because that is one of the things that we talk about. It’s a spoiler for this article because if I would join the club, then I must have liked the experience, right? Well, let me get to the point.

I wanted to ski at the Hermitage Club to see if it held up to what Haystack once was. The mountain that I remember having so many good times at. A mountain that still had the same vibe that it had when it was open to the public. Or, has it been ruined by a company that might be looking more to live up to the “Rich Skier” stereotypes. That’s actually what I was afraid of.

Well, I am here to tell you right now that it has not been ruined. In fact, they have done some wonderful things to the mountain.

I’m not just talking about the high-end amenities that one would expect from a country club type of place. Of course, it has all of them and they are fantastic. Although the amenities are choice, that isn’t the only thing that would sell me or the folks that follow Ski Rex Media.

The mountain itself still skied the same. Some would say, “Well, of course, it did. It’s a mountain. It’s not like it has changed in millions of years and as long as the trails are still cut, how much different could it be?”

That’s an excellent point. However, I’ll use an example to explain what I meant.

During one of the early attempts to run Haystack as a private mountain, the folks who were running it began to change the names of the ski trails. Some of those trail names had been there since the place opened up back in the 60s. But, many of those names had changed for various reasons, none of which anyone would agree with if they had been skiing there prior to the private model.

The beauty of the current Hermitage Club is that they put all the trail and lift names back to what they were. They wanted to honor the old Haystack Mountain, and in turn, honor those that had grown up with and loved the mountain, in some cases, since its beginning. They wanted to show that they understood what it means to be more than just a business and part of the community. For the mountain to have an identity all its own.

It felt just like it did in the 90s. The trail map had all of the same names and they all went exactly where there always did and felt just as good flying down them.

Of course, there are a few things that are different. The main lift is a six-pack bubble chair now that runs nice and smooth and fast. There are also a few other lifts that weren’t there in the past. This includes a lift that can bring folks up from the Hermitage Inn. That wasn’t there in the 90s. I mean, it makes sense for it to be there. The Hermitage Inn is where the club got its name during the first attempts. However, as I said earlier, the mountain is now all about skiing and riding, so the inn is its own business once again.

Anyway, back to the point…

Though riding up a heated six-pack high-speed lift is much different than anything the mountain had back in the day, standing on the top of the mountain and seeing that view to the east felt just like it did back in the day. Also, the day we visited was bluebird and gorgeous. We could see as far across NH as our eyes would let us. It was amazing.

After marveling at the view for the first time in over 20 years, our guide for the day, Lars Pedersen, took us right down the front of the mountain and it was awesome! The three of us, which also included my assistant for the day and best friend of nearly 30 years, Travis, went flying down with no effort. There was no crowd to get in our way and the snow was amazing. To tell the truth, I wasn’t sure if we could keep up with Lars, at first. That kid is a damn good skier.

Our second run, however, was truly a blast from the past. After making another ascent on the Barnstormer Six, our guide took us over to one of the nerdiest areas at any ski mountain. He took us to ride The Witches Triple, which leads to an area where all the trail names are witch and wizard themed. Do you like D&D or LOTR? Then you’ll dig the names on these trails. We like that fantasy nerd stuff, too, but it was more than that. This area is where a lot of the trail names were changed to something else. But the Hermitage Club in its current form put them back because the current Hermitage Club is awesome!

Seriously, this was the part of the day that was the most like going back in time. It was the same lift, the same trails, and the same names with the same sights. It was like no time had passed on this part of the mountain for me. I had skied this area and ridden that lift a ton in the past and all of those memories came flooding back.

It was the same mountain. Sure, the buildings have changed, the staff has changed, and the infrastructure has changed some. The access road takes a little bit of a different course than it did back in my day. But at its core, the mountain is still the same as it ever was. It feels the same.

Those that run the Hermitage Club have done a fantastic job, in my opinion, of keeping the soul of Haystack Mountain alive while giving members a country club experience. Even though I said that couldn’t be done, I was very wrong.

As an example, when people hear about private ski clubs and resorts, they think of something like The Yellowstone Club and similar, where it’s just a bunch of rich people being rich people. These places are looked down upon by some in the snow sports community and are even made fun of or the target of memes. But the Hermitage Club isn’t like that, at all. Sure, the first year there will cost a person around $65k, followed by $10k or $15k a year after that. That’s a serious chunk of change, I know. But I would pay it in a second if I had it. That’s how good the Hermitage Club is with everything they are doing down there.

It really is a wonderful place.

To sum up, I went down to the Hermitage Club to see if skiing at Haystack Mountain felt the same as it did back in the day and it does. When it comes to Haystack Mountain vs. The Hermitage Club, only the amenities have changed. The spirit and soul of the mountain are still very much alive and well. I enjoyed every moment of the Ski Rex Media visit and even though I don’t have the resources to become a member yet, I hope that maybe…just maybe…I can talk them into another day during the coming season.


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