Soft, weightless powder drifts over the tops of my boots as I travel down the mountain and the only sound I hear is the schuss of my skis carving fresh turns across the pristine, evergreen-lined trail. A short distance ahead, my friend Mara takes the skier’s right onto Run Around and I dip in behind her to swoop down to the Witches Triple, the sun warming our backs. It’s almost noon on an early, February Saturday but we’ve got the chair to ourselves while up ahead acres of untouched corduroy lay anticipating our tracks. We’d come to the Hermitage Club to get a taste for life at a private ski resort and so far I hadn’t found too much not to love. Actually, I hadn’t found anything not to love.
Located just a few hours drive from New York City—even less from upstate New York, Connecticut, and Boston—the Hermitage Club at Haystack Mountain boasts the distinction of being the only private ski club on the east coast. Set on 1,400-acres between the quaint Vermont towns of West Dover and Wilmington, Haystack is a mid-sized mountain that shares a ridge with nearby Mount Snow—but the ridge is the only thing the two resorts have in common. While skiers stand ten-deep in lift lines down the road, Hermitage promises members forty runs in a day and freshies at three in the afternoon. Intrigued yet? There’s more. But first, a bit of backstory.
A Brief History of Haystack Mountain
Haystack opened for business just before Christmas in 1964 with 75 skiable acres, the slogan, “Ski Haystack before everyone else does,” and the desire to establish itself as an upscale, exclusive destination. Through the decades, however, the resort’s financial struggles repeatedly surpassed the ambitions of its multiple owners, resulting in frequent bankruptcies and periodic closings.
But the mountain’s destiny was due to take positive turn. In 2007, Connecticut businessman Jim Barnes purchased the historic Hermitage Inn with the plan to keep a place he’d long loved from crumbling into disrepair. Though creating an entire mountainside enclave was never the plan, opportunity soon knocked in the form of the faltering Haystack Club and Barnes purchased the mountain and nearby golf course in 2011. The following winter, one lift spun on Haystack and the idea for what would soon become the Hermitage Club was born. Over the past five years, Barnes has added the Deerfield Valley Airport to his holdings as well as five other local inns and a variety of real estate offerings that include both private homes and slope side townhouses. 750 member families have put down roots at the club to date.
Club Life 101 – Membership Does Have its Privileges
A laundry list of plush amenities accompanies the $85,000 initiation fee and $8,500 annual dues required to secure what the club calls a “family legacy” membership. Lest you think such a price tag is unattainable, the club offers a variety of payment plans to make membership semi-affordable for folks who can swing 84 payments of $1,250 per month.
Life at Hermitage centers around the Clubhouse, a luxe, 90,000 square foot post and beam base lodge that houses restaurants, a fantastic bar with enormous windows overlooking the slopes, a fitness center featuring all variety of classes including yoga, pilates, zumba, and spinning, an indoor lap pool, a lush spa with 14 treatment rooms, a bowling alley, a movie theater, a game room, and childcare facilities. Members also have access to deluxe locker rooms with heated boot storage and an on-site ski concierge. Finally, the Clubhouse hosts a variety of happening events throughout the year including intimate concerts featuring cool rock legends that will make 80s girls swoon. Can you say Hall and Oates?
Membership benefits move outdoors as well. Families receive passes to ski Haystack’s 45 alpine trails, which range from beginner to expert, as well as a generous 75 guest passes to use each season. In addition to downhill, the club is also home to nine-miles of on-site Nordic trails. At the nearby Hermitage Inn, members have unlimited access to snowshoes for kids and adults, an old-fashioned ice-skating rink, and a tubing hill. Snowmobilers can store their machines with the club and ride all over the mountain when the lifts stop spinning, from 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. Ski lessons—both seasonal and daily—ski racing, and horse-drawn carriage rides are all available for an additional fee. Warm weather offerings are equally abundant.
Anyone who skis the east knows that on busy weekends, once the powder is scraped off the hill, you’re sliding on some pretty bulletproof surfaces. In contrast, conditions on Haystack are consistently pristine all day long and the mountain boasts almost one hundred percent snowmaking coverage and excellent grooming capabilities. The Club likes to say that in addition to having zero lift lines, skiers can still get first tracks on their last runs of the day and they aren’t exaggerating. On our reconnaissance mission to the Hermitage Club, Mara and I found fresh corduroy on most trails when we hopped off the chair late in the day, and though Saturday dawned blustery and frigid, the wait for the six-person heated Barnstormer bubble chair (one of only two in the country) was never more than a few minutes. In fact, the only lines we waited in all weekend were the ones at the bar during après ski.
At Home on the Mountain
For now, joining the Hermitage Club at Haystack Mountain doesn’t require you to purchase real estate, though this aspect of membership is due to change in the near future. To date, the club has sold approximately half of their 1,500 total memberships. When 900 families fill their roster, new applicants will need to invest in Hermitage real estate along with their membership. In that vein, the options for doing so are many.
For those inclined toward the most private of digs, members can choose from a collection of alpine-style slope side homes and classic country farmhouses. For the ultimate in ease and trail accessibility, stylish ski in/ski out townhouses dot the Haystack Mountain landscape. Additionally, the Hotel Hermitage, which is due to open near the Clubhouse for the 2019 season, will add luxurious, full-service condominiums just steps from the lifts.
While investing in a private home or townhouse is always an option, members and their guests have multiple lodging choices outside of property ownership. Six cozy, country inns are associated with the Hermitage Club and members receive a ten-percent discount on lodging as one of their perks. For ski enthusiasts, a stay at the Hermitage Inn cannot be beat as the Tage Quad, just a few steps from the front door, delivers guests right to the slopes of Haystack Mountain. The others are all just a short drive from the main Clubhouse area.
Finally, the Club’s devoted executive chef Chris Bonnivier, ministers to the inns’ three restaurants—which draw from an eclectic mix of farm-to-table, French inspired, and rustic Italian cuisine—with an artful eye and discerning palate. Bonnivier also oversees members-only on-mountain dining at the Clubhouse, the Summit Cabin—home to an extravagant waffle station with an adjacent bar that is equally fab—and the Mid-Mountain Cabin, a place that gets seriously hopping throughout the day.
I Could Get Used to This…
The folks at Hermitage make it easy for potential members to get a feel for life at a private ski resort, offering a variety of ways folks can sample the club. For families looking for a sort of Hermitage Club 101, consider a package for prospective applicants that includes a night at one of the affiliated inns—two days of skiing are included with the stay—and use of all of the many Clubhouse amenities.
Finally, if membership simply isn’t in the cards for your family, you can still enjoy the Hermitage Club once per calendar year by treating yourself to a stay at one of the affiliated inns, an option Mara outlined at length based on our recent Hermitage visit. Inn guests are entitled to ski at Haystack Mountain for the length of their stay as well as to enjoy on-mountain dining at the Summit and Mid-Mountain Cabins, the fitness center and spa at the Clubhouse, and all dining and recreational amenities offered at the Hermitage inns. Clubhouse dining and events, however, remain available for members only.
Many people dreamed of nurturing Haystack Mountain into an exclusive, alpine haven. With Barnes’ passion and commitment, the resort now shines as the east coast’s only private ski resort and it was certainly fun to call the club home for a couple of days.
Gina Vercesi is an award-winning freelance writer with an adventurous spirit and unwavering wanderlust. Despite growing up in New England, Gina didn’t don a pair of skis until February 2014—the result of being raised by a beach-loving dad who eschewed everything having to do with snow and cold. When she finally took her first lessons and hit the slopes at Stowe Mountain Resort, she became an instant convert. As an All Mountain Mama, Gina loves sharing the joys of Vermont skiing with powder-lovers and novices alike.
Chronicling journeys on land, water, and snow, Gina’s words and images have appeared numerous print and digital publications including National Geographic Traveler, Travel + Leisure, Sierra, the Boston Globe, Delta SKY, Afar, Yankee, and many more. She is passionate about helping families (including her own!) unplug from electronics and the frenetic pace of modern life and believes that travel and adventure are the best ways reconnect to one another and the world around us. Gina lives in a friendly village on the Hudson River with her husband, three daughters, and a good dog. www.ginavercesi.com