PITTSFIELD -- Until about 20 years ago, ski areas were quiet places in the summertime, ribbons of tall grass creating stripes on the mountainside, chair lifts swinging empty in the breeze, and pieces of equipment sitting idle.
Today, many of them are bursting with activity. Their owners have branched out to put their valuable land to work in what had always been their off-season. Bousquet Mountain in Pittsfield is no exception. Where snowboarders and skiers glide to a stop in winter, owner George Jervas has installed a plethora of summertime amusements that allow for everything from water sliding to bungee jumping.
It's not surprising that Bous quet stays on the cutting edge. Coming up to its 80th ski season, Bousquet is one of the oldest ski areas in the country and one of the first to install snowmaking equipment. It's been a leader for years in skiing education and a pioneer in lighting its slopes for night skiing.
While Bousquet is not the biggest mountain around, its convenient location within a few miles of Park Square and its affordable prices have kept it going since Clarence Bousquet opened it in 1932.
"We're trying to diversify," said marketing director Sherry Roberts, "and create a three-season draw." And the attempt rolls on, with last summer's addition of a disc golf course on the slopes, a three-level aerial adventure course and a 700-foot zipline. Similar courses operate at Catamount Ski Area and Jiminy Peak.
The Bousquet project cost $200,000, and it's working. Summertime has fewer weather risks than winter, and Jervas said the new additions make a big difference when the sun's not out and the pools are less appealing.
That's an ideal time, he said, to sweat out a journey through the course of dangling tires, rope bridges, uphill ziplines and swaying board steps. Walking the plank at Bousquet is serious business, and the faces of the people up there in the maze of boards and ropes reflect their concentration.
From the road, the course looks intriguing.
From the ground, close up, it looks im possible.
When college student Joe Martin of Richmond saw the setup, he thought it would be fun to get a job supervising that. So he signed on for a week of training, which included doing the course. His first time, he confesses, he "was absolutely terrified."
Now he's summertime staff, showing climbers how to use their $600 harnesses, which safely clip them to cables as they venture forth. It is possible to fall, Martin says, and people do -- but they can't fall off. And at each platform, where they unclip and clip to a new section, they cannot undo both clips simultaneously. They are always attached to the cable system.
Staff helps the novices, for which a grandmother is thankful. When my grandchildren, 10-year-old Max and his 14-year-old sister Summer, could not get across an uphill zipline last fall, a supervisor tossed them a rope and hauled them in. That staff member remained with them the whole way, offering tips and encouragement when it seemed their short legs could not possibly get to the next swinging plank or hanging tire.
Roberts said teenagers are major fans of the new course. It's not often overcrowded, because it will accommodate about 50 people at a time. Word is getting around that the rate drops to $20 on Tuesdays from the regular $35 for adults and $29 for juniors.
Unlike Martin, my grandchildren claimed they never were scared, and they came back for seconds this spring. They did admit that their arms did some serious aching for a week or so.
And they loved the 700-foot zipline, which costs an extra $10 and requires no work at all -- just a few seconds from start to finish over the spot where people shriek their way down the hill in tubes when it's January instead of July.
If you go ...
What: Bousquet Mountain Adventure Park
Two waterslides, mini golf, go-kart rides, a bungee trampoline, climbing wall, disc golf, aerial adventure park, zipline, chairlift rides (July and August weekends only) and an inflatable castle bounce.
Where: 101 Dan Fox Drive, at intersection with Tamarack Road, Pittsfield
When: Open daily,
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Admission: Prices range from $35 for adults on the adventure course to $5 for five minutes in the bounce castle. On Tuesdays, the aerial course price is reduced to $20.
Mountain pass: Unlimited use
of waterslide, activity pool and mini golf, plus three other tickets of your choice, $28.