It’s time to dive back into what may be one of the more bizarre stories from the North American ski industry this year: the proposal to connect Smugglers’ Notch and Stowe via gondola. This effort is surprisingly not being led by Vail Resorts, which owns Stowe, as Smuggs is spearheading the P/R effort on this one.
Yesterday, WCAX spoke with Bill Stritzler, who is the Owner and Managing Director of Smugglers’ Notch Resort, who explained why Smuggs is pushing for the gondola. In the video report, the reporter says that Smuggs’ is the last independent ski area in Vermont (which isn’t true), is in a fight for its life, and that this interconnected gondola is its lifeline. If they can’t complete the lift, they wonder if they can remain independent or be financially viable.
Bill Stritzler, who has worked at the resort since 1987 and owned it since 1996, is clearly thinking about his legacy. This means that he’s been analyzing the long-term financial feasibility of the ski resort. Bill’s in his mid-80s and believes that the Community Connector gondola is the way to keep Smuggs successful for future generations.
They also spoke with Mike DeBonis, the executive director of the Green Mountain Club, who has yet to announce their official position on the project. It seems that they’re likely to oppose it due to the needed move of the Long Trail if the gondola were built, which GMC takes care of.
There’s general confusion among locals about whether this gondola proposal means that Smugglers’ would either join the Epic Pass or be bought by Vail Resorts. Bill Stritzler has maintained throughout this process that there are no active talks of them being acquired by Vail.
In a June staff meeting, which was shared by Free Lot 1, Bill said there’s been no discussion with Vail Resort about what their relationship will be once/if the gondola is completed. He contemplated that this could include offering a joint ticket, both sides having a financial stake in the lift, or Vail taking a financial share in the resort.
It should be noted in the WCAX interview, Bill stated that the goal of the gondola is for Smuggs to remain independent. With Bill being in his mid-80s, it’s unclear what the next owner would want to do with Smuggs.
The thing that could get in the way of the project is Act 250, Vermont’s land use and development law which companies need to get through in order to develop projects like this. It’s not an easy thing to get past. Just ask the folks who are trying to convert the abandoned base lodge at Maple Valley into a brewery and distillery.
Matt over at Skiology News pointed out that Smuggs and Stowe are facing resistance from the Barre District Stewardship Team, which gives recommendations to the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, who approve or deny ACT 250 requests. A March meeting saw significant resistance from the Barre District Stewardship Team due to it passing over the Mt. Mansfield Natural Area, which is also a national landmark, meaning there’s a chance that this proposal gets rejected.
For more information about Smugglers’ and Green Mountain Clubs’ viewpoints, check out WCAX’s video report down below.