Williams students present ideas for Prospect Mountain

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BENNINGTON — Advancing Prospect Mountain Ski Area's nascent snowmaking effort, installing a solar panel system atop the base lodge, posting mountain conditions more regularly online and expanding the restaurant's menu are among the immediate recommendations for the Nordic skiing destination presented by five Williams College students Thursday night.

The students' presentation at the Bennington Free Library, attended by dozens of people, served as a kind of prelude to the release of a written report on the matter expected next month. Over the course of a semester, the students — seniors Alison Robey, Hannah Goldstein and Matthew Wiseman, and juniors Anna Bruce and Madeline Rawson — compiled ideas at a gathering of Prospect supporters, created a survey that received 154 responses and conducted at least 17 interviews with stakeholders and subject-matter experts.

That work, along with additional research, helped to inform short- and long-term recommendations related to recreation, energy, marketing and food at the 144-acre ski area in Woodford, which the nonprofit Prospect Mountain Association acquired from longtime owners Steve Whitham and Andrea Amodeo in the fall of 2018. More than $1 million in combined grants and donations from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, the Vermont Land Trust, Williams College alumni and other community members helped to support the purchase, according to the presentation.

The mountain currently offers more than 30 kilometers of cross-country trails, as well as snowshoe and alpine touring trails. College and high-school teams, as well as a youth ski league, train and race at the site. Whitham, one of the former owners, was retained by the association as a full-time mountain manager.

Survey respondents indicated the most support for improving Prospect's snowmaking, sustainability and trails, according to the presentation. Nearly two-thirds of respondents said that Prospect's current pricing — $22 for an adult day ticket and $220 for a single season pass, among other options, according to the area's website — is reasonable but that they'd be willing to pay more to support its operations. Most respondents also expressed a willingness to pay more for a wider array of options at the restaurant.

About 86 percent of respondents showed interest in Prospect-branded apparel. The students prepared designs for sweatshirts, t-shirts, canvas tote bags and stickers as part of a potential branding strategy.

Looking further into the future, the students suggested that, by March 2022, the association establish a race course that meets International Ski Federation standards, install a biomass boiler, expand marketing efforts into southern Massachusetts and northern New York and offer breakfasts for snowmobilers. Additional recommendations, like submitting bids for national races and hosting summer events, are intended for 2025 and beyond.

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The students tackled the project as part of an environmental planning course taught by Sarah Gardner, associate director of the Center for Environmental Studies at Williams College.

"It's been really special," Hannah Goldstein, one of the students, said of her experience working on the forthcoming report. The project afforded an opportunity to work with people who live in the area, develop practical skills and potentially help the community, she said.

David Dethier, a board member of the association, and Don Campbell, southwest regional director for the Vermont Land Trust, served as the students' "clients" for the project, providing "a little bit of help and a little bit of direction," Dethier said.

"We had a good year last year," Dethier said of the ownership group's first winter season. Attendance needs to increase, he said, "but people love it."

A costly overhaul of the ski area's septic system, featuring new tanks and a septic field now located "in the right place," is days away from completion, Dethier said.

The board member praised the students' work, though he said "it's an open question at this point" what recommendations the association might seek to implement, given capital limitations.

"The thing that's amazing about Prospect is what you saw here tonight," Campbell said. "This community wants it to succeed."

Contact Luke Nathan at lnathan@benningtonbanner.com.


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