Lucky 13? Ski mountain investors say they believe in Magic

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2016 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Thirteen investors – many of whom are longtime Magic Mountain skiers – have concluded an agreement to buy the Londonderry resort from Magic Mountain Management for an undisclosed price. Formed as SKI MAGIC LLC, the group expects to close on the property in late September or early October and open for business in mid-December.

Last season's Magic Mountain Trail map

Last season’s Magic Mountain Trail map

In the meantime, the group has just six weeks to complete its “due diligence” including building, health, fire and environmental inspections as well as a property survey. At the same time, it must also prepare for the winter season starting from scratch.

“Nothing has been done here since April,” said Geoff Hatheway, SKI MAGIC president who was at the mountain on Saturday.

SKI MAGIC bought the mountain and ski operation as one piece, according to Hatheway, but that was not without complications. “There were various mortgage interests and other debt. One person could blow up the deal at any time,” says Hatheway, whose group had negotiated for the mountain last year only to have the deal fall through.

But while last season’s dry winter was difficult for Vermont’s ski resorts, it took a greater toll on Magic, which has a troubled financial past. “Certainly, the mountain’s financial operating situation became dire. … with the very real possibility that they would not be able to open for this upcoming season,” saays Hatheway. “That probably encouraged ownership to more aggressively explore sale options again.”

Now, as the day of the closing nears, Hatheway and his group are beginning to unfold their five-year plan for keeping the mountain pretty much as it is, but better.

The base of the Black Line which the new owners hope to put back in service after two years standing still.

The base of the Black Line that the new owners hope to put back in service after two years standing still. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

“Redundancy, reliability and consistency are the key,” he says. And to achieve that, SKI MAGIC is working to bring the Black Line triple chairlift back into service after being down for two years. With two bottom-to-top lifts, there are no lines, no crowds, according to Hatheway. But more important,  if one lift needs to stop, people can still get to the top.

In future years, a third lift – the Green Line – which was begun early in the past decade, but never completed, will make a mountain that is known for challenging terrain more family- and beginner-friendly as it moves skiers halfway up the mountain to an area where there are less challenging runs.

“Magic has always had the reputation that there was no snowmaking, but that’s not really the case,” says Hatheway. “There’s piping for snowmaking to 70 percent of the mountain, although some of it needs repairs.”

In the past, about 30 percent of the trails got snowmaking and in the new owners’ plan that will grow to 50 percent by the fifth year, which should help the resort to open earlier each year. “We don’t need to cover 90 percent like other mountains because we can provide a good experience to all levels of skiers with half the trails and our skiers tend to prefer natural snow,” says Hatheway. “One of the secrets of Magic is that we have a great groomer.”

According to Hatheway, Magic is all about the terrain, noting that beyond the 135 acres of mapped trails and 60 acres of mapped glade terrain there are 100 acres of off-map gladed terrain. “There’s an incredible amount of accessible area if you’re a qualified skier,” says Hatheway.

The Magic lodge is a throwback to a time when skiing was a simpler, less expensive sport.

The Magic lodge is a throwback to a time when skiing was a simpler, less expensive sport.

Aside from the skiing experience, SKI MAGIC wants to improve the visitor experience with better communication, better signage and a good lodge experience that includes “one of the best apres ski environments in southern Vermont.” Hatheway also promises a Winterfest with fireworks and a torch parade.

In all, Hatheway says that his group will invest between $1 million and $2 million in the first five years with a large portion of that happening sooner. But, he also promises that the group will have the reserves to weather the dry times. “You gotta have reserves, and we have money for that in our plans.”

In addition to money, Magic also has a corps of volunteers who are passionate about the place with several on hand last weekend to uncover an old snow-making pipe to prepare it for repair. “They’re bound and determined to help,” says Hatheway.

Geoff Hatheway, president of SKI MAGIC, LLC has been skiing Magic since 2000.

Geoff Hatheway, president of SKI MAGIC LLC has been skiing Magic since 2000.

Magic’s new management believes its changes will be good for surrounding towns. This past July 4th, SKI MAGIC helped facilitate Londonderry’s fireworks and will continue to help with parking and ticketing for the Frendly Gathering and making space available in the lodge for events.

“Magic has a different atmosphere than the corporate mountains,” says Hatheway. “It’s a friendly, welcoming atmosphere. There’s no pretense, no attitude here.”

A drive around the base of the mountain will turn up some small townhouse style condos and the modest Swiss style chalets built in the 1960’s by Hans Thorner the Swiss ski instructor who built the resort, but none of the mansions or timber-framed clubhouses of other mountain resorts.

“Skiing has become very stressful today,” says Hatheway. “But the only stress you should feel is in deciding which line to take down the mountain.

“Some people won’t come here because we don’t have high speed chair lifts, and we never will. The difference between these and high speed lifts is maybe five minutes off a 13-minute ride. If you’ve just come off a run, and there’s no waiting for a lift, you need that extra time to rest on the way up. And you’ll have a chance to talk with the other people on the lift, maybe meet a new friend.”

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  1. Katherine says:

    I don’t even ski and I’m excited!

  2. Brooks says:

    I have been a Mt.Snow rider for many years and have always had a great time! At this point I’m looking for another Mt. That’s a little more laid back. Geoff is right, why am I getting so stressed about getting to the top as quick as I can? Not to mention the amount of wasted time in the ridiculously long lines even on the fastest high capacity lifts. Really looking forward to bringing friends for a true mellow VT experience like its always was intended to be.

  3. So happy to see that Magic Mountain will be up and running. Looking forward to a great year of skiing.

  4. Clarke says:

    Hoping for the best! I learned how to ski at Magic in the early 1980s, and it’s still one of my favorite places on earth. Amazing skiing experience here. Pray for snow! And best of luck to the new management

  5. Jason Braza says:

    Rooting for you guys to make this work. You have one of the best staffs in the business!

  6. Joshua says:

    I have to say good luck. It’s a great mountain and I want to see it survive. I wish I lived closer to help support it.

  7. Congrats to this awesome crew. Love to see it become not just #savemagic but rather actually #savingmagic

  8. Way to go! I worked at Magic for 8 years. It was the best eight years of my life, great times and wonderful staff and skiers. Glad to see it still has some life in it. Best of luck.

  9. Barb says:

    Take a breath, step back and enjoy.
    What wonderful news.
    I believe in Magic too.