An e-mail memorandum dated July 24 surprised faculty, staff and students of Middlebury College: President Ronald Liebowitz said he had mulled over several options about the future of the college's Snow Bowl ski center in Middlebury Gap-including the option of closing the famed alpine-ski site.
Liebowitz's soul-searching regarding the fate of the ski center was prompted by the state of its chair lift system. But it appears that Liebowitz has strongly encouraged the board of trustees to keep the Snow Bowl open for business.
In the announcement last week, Liebowitz noted that the Snow Bowl's 40-year-old "Worth Mountain" double-chair lift no longer meets state safety licensing requirements.
Replacing the current lift is estimated to cost $1.7 million.
"After considering the options-repair the existing lift, replace it, or close the Snow Bowl-I recommended to the board of trustees that the best course is to replace the Worth Mountain lift."
In recommending that the award-winning ski center remain open by replacing the aging lift, Leibowitz said donors have already pledged $600,000 toward the cost of the new lift project.
"In seeking additional contributions, we will approach alumni, parents and friends who have particularly strong connections to the college through skiing and the Snow Bowl. We also plan to sell a limited number of lifetime passes to the Bowl, which will further reduce our use of the RRR (renewal and replacement reserve) fund," he wrote in the campus-wide memo.
According to Leibowitz, the replacement lift will be a fixed-grip, triple-chair system built by Doppelmayr CTEC. The lift capacity will remain the same as the Worth Mountain lift. The E.U.-based firm has North American offices and production facilities in St. Jerome, Quebec, and Salt Lake City, Utah.
The Snow Bowl consists of 110 acres with 15 trails and glades; 35 percent of the terrain has snowmaking coverage. A full-service rental shop, snow school, racing program, food service is available to budget-minded skiers.
The new chair lift will require additional site work along the existing lift's Allen Trail path, according to Leibowitz. The work will be completed in time for the start of the 2009-2010 ski season.
The ski center has operated at the site, located along Route 125 above Middlebury Gap in the Green Mountain range, since 1934.