Bolton Valley resort back in hands of original owner

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The family that founded Bolton Valley has purchased the ski resort back and has plans for major expansion.

Local investors led by Ralph DesLauriers announced Friday they bought the Chittenden County ski area and several nearby businesses, including a restaurant and hotel. DesLauriers started the ski area with his father in 1966 and ran it until 1997.

The 82-year-old DesLauriers said Monday he mounted the effort to buy back the ski area because of concerns it would be closed and the area sold for development.

"I was worried about the future of Bolton," he said. "We wanted to keep it as a ski area dedicated to Vermonters. We just want to continue having fun, affordable skiing for Vermont families."

DesLauriers started an after-school program for schoolchildren 50 years ago that continues to offer passes at reduced prices.

"It's one of the things I'm most proud of, and it's that same family-centered mission and love of Vermont that's driving me and my kids back into this business," he said.

DesLaurier and his family, along with half a dozen outside investors, purchased the ski area and other assets from Burlington real estate developers Larry Williams and Doug Nedde, who gained controlling interest 10 years ago.

DesLauriers declined to reveal the purchase price. He said Williams and Nedde negotiated a fair price because they wanted to keep the property as a ski area in local hands. As part of the deal, the new owners will assume a $1.3 million loan from the Vermont Economic Development Authority.

"This is definitely not a buy and flip. This is a long-term commitment by my family and the local investors. They really love it and believe in it," DesLauriers said. The buyers include his daughter Lindsay DesLauriers and son Evan DesLauriers.

One investor who skied at Bolton Valley as a youth noted the purchase ran counter to recent trends with huge ski areas gobbling up smaller ones. Earlier this year, the owners of Vail announced they were buying Stowe Mountain for $50 million.

"In a year when major corporations are buying up Vermont ski resorts, Bolton Valley returns to its roots with the DesLauriers family," Thomas Kelliher, who lives at Bolton Valley, said in a news release from the resort. "Being able to be part of this ski community and make a positive difference means a lot (to) me. When Ralph and I first talked about the opportunity, I was truly honored."

Ralph DesLaurier said the investment group plans to pour millions into the ski area, including expanded snowmaking, as well as into the hotel and a local restaurant. He said the ski area and the facilities had "aged" and needed to be updated. The ski area had been making a small profit the past several years if debt service were not included, he said.

Prior to selling in the late 1990s, Ralph DesLauriers liquidated several large parcels to stay afloat; the resort filed for bankruptcy protection in 1995. Several of the owners afterward struggled financially and sold off pieces of the assets. As part of this purchase, he said, the investors have bought back and reassembled all of the pieces, including a recreation center.

The purchase included about 800 acres, six ski lifts, a 64-room hotel, 10 lodge condominium units, four restaurant facilities, a small general store and deli, and a 20,000-square-foot indoor sports center. In addition, the company has rights for cross-country and backcountry skiing and hiking on 1,144 acres of adjacent land in Mount Mansfield State Forest. (That land was purchased by the Vermont Land Trust after almost being sold to a private developer.)

Originally the DesLauriers family owned 8,000 acres.

Day-to-day operations of the ski resort will continue with the existing management team, under the leadership of resort President George B. Potter.

Ralph and Evan DesLauriers said the focus would be on Vermont families.

"Growing up, we could ski the whole mountain as kids and our parents never worried. We don't want to change any of that," Evan DesLauriers said in the news release. "We love Bolton Valley. But we know that it needs to be updated and that's what we plan to do. Starting this summer we will embark on a gradual, multiyear plan to improve the facilities, offer more amenities to our guests, and bring summer back to the mountain. And we're committed to doing it in a way that keeps Bolton accessible and affordable for Vermonters."

The mountain has a 1,700-foot drop.

Lindsay DesLauriers will continue as the state director and lobbyist for the Main Street Alliance. Another son, Rob, will also be participating in decisions.

Main Street Alliance has been advocating this Legislative session for a paid family leave bill. Lindsay DesLauriers said the owners of Bolton Valley supported the idea but would not be offering that benefit at this time.

"Bolton Valley like many Vermont owned businesses isn't in a position at this point to be able to provide that kind of long term paid family leave to our employees," she said. "Following the good practices established by the previous owners, we will continue to offer competitive paid sick and vacation benefits, but we understand that there will be times when our employees, like all Vermonters, will need a long term leave benefit - to have a baby or care for a family member who needs them - and so we support a statewide family and medical leave solution, like the one being proposed."

She added: "Of course we support it. It makes good business sense and will be great for our employees."

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