On the night of Nov. 29, a handful of drivers pulled their cars off to the side of Powder Hill Road and looked over the orchards at something that has not been seen for seven years in Middlefield —lights running up the mountain at Powder Ridge.
Hundreds more gathered at the base of Powder Ridge Mountain Park and Resort, as it is now called, for an Opening Night celebration that featured food, drink, live music, and, most significantly, lights and snow.
When he stood in the dark to address the crowd before officially turning the lights back on, owner Sean Hayes got a rousing applause, only slightly muffled by mittens and gloves.
“There’s a lot of people behind the scenes that made this possible,” Hayes said. Noting that Brownstone Exploration and Discovery Park, where Hayes is one of the owners, was expanded with input from the Portland community, Hayes said that the vision for the new Powder Ridge was guided by this local community.
“You guys wanted weddings,” Hayes said, and gestured to the top of the mountain, where the lights would later reveal a gazebo for ceremonies.
“We didn’t want to create another local ski area. This is an adventure sports park for the whole family,” Hayes said.
When the powerful lights came on, they were slow to warm up and only gradually revealed the slopes but people cheered anyway. In that, the lights were an apt metaphor for the ski resort itself, which took a long seven years to return to business. The rebirth of Powder Ridge was also supported by the community, which approved the purchase of the land at a referendum in 2008 and its sale for use as a ski resort at another referendum in August of 2012.
Middlefield First Selectman Jon Brayshaw kicked off the ceremony by comparing Powder Ridge to Sleeping Beauty. “It went to sleep,” Brayshaw said. “Sean Hayes had the vision, the ability, and the courage” to bring it back.
Speaking after the ceremony, Brayshaw pointed to the long line of cars coming into the parking lots and the crowds of people moving into the food tent and said that this location was special to the community. “Almost mystical,” Brayshaw said, “I’ve known so many people who have met their husband or wife here.”
In the tent, people lined up to buy food prepared by Kevin Cottle, Head Chef for Powder Ridge, including Fire at the Ridge, the fine dining restaurant planned for the resort.
There were tables of leg of lamb and steamship leg of pork, as well as a pasta station. “We’ve got some soup,” said Cottle, “It’s freezing out there.”
Cottle pointed out that the butternut squash bisque was made with Lyman Orchards apples while the New England Clam Chowder reflected Cottle’s background. “I’m a New England kid. I’m pretty seafood heavy.”
According to Cottle, the three dining options at Powder Ridge - cafeteria style, tavern fare and fine dining - will have three different roll out dates. The cafeteria, called The Marketplace, will open between Christmas and New Year’s. The tavern is scheduled to open “January-ish,” with Fire at the Ridge’s opening planned for April.
“We’re shooting for when the mountain closes,” Cottle said.
Powder Ridge’s website announced that they were not able to make snow to open the snowboarding jib area for the celebration as planned, but snow making did return to the mountain during the Opening Night ceremonies.
Like the lights and like the re-opening of Powder Ridge itself, the snow machines took a while to get going, but when they did they were greeting with cheers.