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Snow Business: The Hill is Alive at Powder Ridge

The Middlefield snow sports area is alive and well.

Powder Ridge. (Credit: Chris Dehnel)
Powder Ridge. (Credit: Chris Dehnel)
By Patch Editor Chris Dehnel. This column, "Snow Business," looks at skiing and snowboarding in Connecticut and is a weekly feature during the winter months.

Since talking with Powder Ridge owner Sean Hayes about three weeks ago, a visit to the Middlefield snow sports area was highly anticipated. That came last weekend. 

Now let's get one thing out of the way. Considering the place was a virtual ghost town at this time last season, I expected to encounter conditions that were, well, spartan. 

And that was the case to an extent. 

But remember, 12 months ago, the place was considered a lost ski area, a distant memory of snowboarding. So to get on the snow — in Connecticut, in the greater Hartford area, and at Powder Ridge — was truly remarkable. 

You know when it hit me? When I sat on the lift, pulled the bar down and looked at the chairs. Hayes said that, in salvaging them, he replaced the decking and gave them a fresh coat of paint, but they had a new look and feel to them. They looked clean.

Yes, the lodge is still being renovated and yes, the food was limited, But all that is being done at a a pretty quick pace. With that, I decided to concentrate on what Powder Ridge had so far in early 2014 rather than what it did not. 

Here are the highlights: 

Aside from the two main lifts up the center and on the bunny hill, the rental center really stands out. It is spacious and, even at peak hours, no one seemed to wait very long to get fitted and out the door. There were plenty of cool helmets in all kinds of cool colors to satisfy the helmet requirement at the mountain. 

The gazebo at the summit puts a nice touch for not only weddings in the warmer months, but it just gives the top of the hill a classy look. Last weekend, you could ski right into it and check out the views. 

Everyone on staff — and I mean everyone — had a smile, from Hayes to the lifties to the folks fitting rental boots. 

There were a few terrain-park elements to keep the younger crowd happy. 

An outdoor brick pizza oven and waffle station filled in the gap well while the marketplace and full-service restaurant are under construction. 

Here is what Powder Ridge is looking at when all is said and done: 

  • A Burton Riglet Park Learning area that "scopes the snow to alleviate the biggest fears about learning — the ability to stop and turn."
  • A full repair and snow sports service facility along with a ski and snowboard shop — "With reasonable prices." There are a few basic shop offerings already. 
  • Additional retail — including an artisan and crafter venue for the holidays. 
  • Hayes is hinting at using some of the 200 acres for a pick-your-own Christmas tree farm. 
  • Hilltop weddings at the summit gazebo. 
  • A full adventure-type outdoor recreation area for the warmer months. 

In terms of culinary, Powder Ridge has a five-year plan for offering three levels of food: 

  • Level 1 is to be a market-type area (yes the waffle house stays) with a full cafeteria.
  • Level 2 is to be a full-service tavern-type restaurant where one could get something like an angus burger.
  • Level 3 is to be "Fire at the Ridge," a fine dining restaurant presented by Chef Kevin Cottle, the Hell's Kitchen Season 6 runner-up.

Chris Dehnel is a local editor for Patch covering Vernon and Tolland. His Snow Business column runs weekly during the season. He has been writing about snow sports for about a dozen years and is a past president of the Eastern Ski Writers Association.

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