In this era of mega resorts with mega passes, it is nice to take a step back to a simpler world where ski hills were local operations supporting the local communities. An era of tickets on wickets, natural snowfall and limited grooming. Magic Mountain in Southern Vermont is a product of this era that survives today.
Magic Mountain was born in the ski boom of the early 1960s. Located on Glebe Mountain in Londonderry, Vermont, it was part of Vermont’s original “Golden Triangle” of ski areas with Stratton and Bromley just ten miles away. Hans Thorner, a Swiss-born ski instructor, founded the area with the intent to make a little Swiss village in Vermont. In the early years the area had Swiss-style lodges, great Swiss food and a cadre of fellow Swiss ski instructors who resided at Magic Mountain each season. All of this resulted in some raucous nightlife back in the day. You know the Swiss, fill them with wine and fondue… look out.
The mountain may have been swinging in the 1960s but things got rockier in the 1970s and 80s. Hans Thorner sold to nearby Bromley and the Swiss theme was abandoned for more traditional real estate development, i.e. postmodern condos. Twists and turns in the real estate market would lead to a parade of owners and operators leading to Magic’s demise. In the early 1990s the lifts stopped turning.
For most places that would be it and it would join the rolls as just another lost ski area. However, Magic hung on. It reopened in 1997 and re-gained a small but passionate following due to its classic setup, strong natural snowfall and challenging terrain. A string of multiple owners and aging infrastructure dragged on the operations again during the 2000s. In 2016, Magic was about ready to shut down the lifts once again.
However, a white knight appeared. Geoff Hatheway, one of a group of passionate Magic regulars, formed SKI MAGIC LLC and purchased the area. They invested in significant snowmaking, lift, and lodge improvements and kept the lifts turning! His efforts made Magic a truly locals operation. Mega Passes be damned!
I arrived just two days after a storm dumped 7+ inches on southern Vermont. Rolling in at 8:30 a.m., I was able to park within a very short walk to the lodge. Although no longer a Swiss Chalet, the lodge was more than adequate. The best part: a weekend lift ticket to an area with 39 trails, 3 lifts, 1,500 feet of drop and multiple skiable glades was a mere $69 — what a deal!
The ski area is simple to navigate, being spilt in two by the Red Summit chair. The East side of the map includes primarily blue and green runs. Some were well groomed, some were not. Some of the best runs on this side were down a nice steep blue “Trick” to “Show-Off”. But most of the trails were at least challenging.
The West side is the more advanced side, with more black and blue trails. After picking my way down, I took a couple spills and I was black and blue! I have found in New England a lot more trails are left ungroomed or natural than in other part of the country. This results in a skiing surface that, while not moguls, is a mix of bumps and conditions that can make even a green trail at times a challenge.
If there is a drawback to Magic, it is that the area works primarily off of just one lift: a nice, newly-painted, bright red but slow fixed double chair. So there is a bit of a tradeoff here. You can spend your time riding the slow lift up and skiing down sparsely populated trails, or you can go to one of the mega resorts nearby and stand in the lift line but ride up faster. Your call. The morning we skied, there was never more than a one- or two-person wait at the chair. There was not even a corral set up. But bring a friend as it can get boring on the long lift without someone to talk to!
Overall it is great to see a small place like Magic making a go of it, and even better to see that it is being run by a devoted group of locals. If you’re in Southern Vermont, avoid the chain stores and ski local. It is the Vermont thing to do!
Robbie Allen is an avid small hill skier. He has written several articles on the many small hills he has sought out.
Great write up! Worth noting that Magic has the some of the most challenging terrain in all of New England (natural snow required). And while the red chair is slow, it helps that it is screened from the wind for almost the whole ride - nice for when skiing on those single digit days!
Sounds like a return trip during the 2018-19 season is warranted. The Black Chair is being upgraded to a quad. There is a Green mid-mountain lift going in somewhere.