Ruth Bass: 80th season rewarding at ski area
While the rest of us complain helplessly about the weather, ski areas do something about it. Their lifeline is snow, and if Mother Nature fails, they turn on the guns.
Now, as the last snow patches disappear from the upper slopes at Bousquet Ski Area, owner Sherry Roberts takes a few minutes to sit in the sun on the deck outside the lodge and look back on the 80th consecutive season of skiing at this relatively small, immensely popular mountain.
With the death of her life and business partner George Jervas last August, Sherry suddenly found herself owner of a ski area. She admits to being " petrified," but she plunged in. A few people quit and, afraid more might follow, Sherry was straightforward with the others: Are you in? Most of them were.
Adopting a team approach (George Jervas was a one-man decision-maker, so this was new), she relied on the core staff for input and, as she puts it quite frankly, "learned to listen."
Ideas were hashed over, decisions were made. Her son, P.J. Roberts, who left his job to help with the transition, is still there. Looking across at his mother last week, P.J. wanted to talk about what he knew she wouldn't say, that she had been allowed little time to grieve the loss of George and that she had, to his amazement, been able to keep emotion in check and focus on the fast-arriving season.
Speaking of George, Sherry feels "he is still here." Thinking about him and the 80th anniversary season pushed her to concentrate on skiing. And so, on December 22, Bousquet opened and, except for Christmas and a couple of other days, welcomed people through March 24. That's a far cry from Clare Bousquet's 20-something ski days in the 1930s.
The best of it? "I would say Martin Luther King weekend. Afterward, we looked at each other and said, ‘It was great.' " And the worst thing? Her blue eyes sparkling, Sherry confesses that it's not being in control. Nature not only is in charge of snow, but also dictates when artificial snow can be laid down. Sometimes it's too warm. Sometimes it's too cold, like the night when the crew was ready at 10 p.m., but the temperature was too low.
P.J. remembers a "painful" night when it was 6 below, with a 16 mph wind gusting to 35, and the crew stuck it out all night because they were making mountains of snow, struggling to keep nozzles from freezing, chilled to the bone on their chairlift rides to the top and their walks back down.
Sherry said she arrived in the morning and could not believe how much snow was piled up, so much that one of the groomers remarked, "I think you've got enough snow." Groomers never think you have enough snow, Sherry said.
She sent the chilled snowmakers home. P.J. notes one of the compensations for the hard work of snowmaking is watching a sunrise from the top of the mountain. He called it "a crystal kingdom," with the fresh cover and the artificial snow floating across the trails.
And why did they close for Christmas Day after three days of the new season? "I'm appreciating the little things," Sherry answered. She wanted to spend the time at home, and by closing, Bousquet's employees could do that, too.
Now she's aiming for a Memorial Day opening of Bousquet's other season, reveling in a Yankee Magazine rating of Bousquet as the best disc golf course in New England and planning outdoor dining.
She is anxious to get the animals back from their winter home in Pittsfield -- two sheep and two goats, who will chew their way up the slopes, plus Wally the donkey, who keeps the coyotes at bay.
Time has moved the mood. Uncertainty in the fall, growing confidence at mid-winter, optimism come spring. And profitable, too.
Ruth Bass is a freelance writer who lives around the corner from Bousquet's in Richmond. Her website is www.ruthbass.com.