By Chris Dehnel
A couple of decent early storms.
More evidence pointing to the stars being aligned over Powder Ridge.
Yes, on Dec. 20, the snow sports landscape in Connecticut will get more interesting.
A lot more interesting.
"We are making snow, so I am a happy man," Powder Ridge owner Sean Hayes said on Thursday. "It looks like four more solid days of good temperatures, so we can make a lot of snow. We are turning the volume up as high as it can get."
Hayes not only made some noise in an early season interview this week, but he is being noticed throughout the industry in general. It's been what, since the 2006-07 season that the lifts at the Middlefield mountain, once considered a cornerstone of learning for the region, have hung dormant?
But the week before Christmas, Hayes said, it re-opens with a new vision.
"Yes we will be open this season and Powder Ridge will become a full-service destination," Hayes said.
Powder Ridge officially re-opened to the public on Nov., 29, but this week has been the week when things really began churning at the hill. Hayes said he hopes to have all 7 million gallons in the snowmaking holding pond drained by Sunday night.
That means all of the snowmaking fans and "as many of the 66 sticks as possible" running.
If all goes well, the base could be 10 inches with most of the mountain open on Dec. 20, Hayes said.
"If we can pull that off, it will be great," Hayes said.
The question was thus posed to Hayes - did you envision this 12 months ago?
"I would have said no sweat," Hayes said.
Then he turned very serious.
"Look at what we've done in the past 12 months. It is significant," Hayes said. "When we purchased Powder Ridge, we said three of the out of the four main trails would be open. Now we're in a position to have every trail that was here operational."
The stats will read, counting everything - will be 20 trails and seven lifts. The lifts include a carpet on the bunny hill, Hayes said.
One of the three summit lifts will remain idle this season, he said. Hayes added he was able to restore all the existing lifts, despite "vandals stealing every piece of copper." Every piece of hanger hardware was refurbished, cables were x-rayed, and new decks were pout on the chairs," he said.
Rope tows for the tubing hill are ready, Hayes said.
Final lift inspections are scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, Hayes said.
While a new lodge is being built, an snack depot and outdoor waffle house will provide food, Hayes said. An brick pizza oven similar to the one at the Brownstone recreation facility - another Hayes property - will be operational.
The rental building has also been "fully restored" Hayes said.
"We're doing Ok for the first year of the restoration process," Hayes said. "We said it would be three-to-five years to build it back fully and we are almost fully restored now."
He then added, "This will not be your local ski area. This will be a full-service resort in an urban environment."
What does that translate to?
• A Burton Riglet Park Learning area that "scopes the snow to alleviate the biggest fears about learning - the ability to stop and turn."
• A full repair and snow sports service facility along with a ski and snowboard shop - "With reasonable prices."
• Additional retail - including a artisan and crafter venue for the holidays.
• Hayes is hinting at using some of the 200 acres for a pick-your-own Christmas tree farm.
• Hilltop weddings at a summit gazebo.
• A full adventure-type outdoor recreation area for the warmer months.
Then, there is the food. Part of the five-year plan is to offer three levels of culinary offerings:
• Level 1 is to be a market-type area (yes the waffle house stays) with a full cafeteria.
• Level 2 is to be a full-service tavern-type restaurant where one could get, say, a angus burger.
• Level 3 to to be "Fire at the Ridge," a fine dining restaurant presented by Chef Kevin Cottle, the Hell's Kitchen Season 6 runner-up.
Said Hayes of Cottle, "He has chosen to make his home at Powder Ridge with a full-service destination year-round restaurant."
He then summed up the eventual dining experience as, "Five-star food in a three-star casual atmosphere."
Hayes then paused and thought of the snow guns blasting away all weekend and a visit from Mother Nature.
Again, he said, the stars seemed to be aligned over the ski hill in Middlefield.
"We are well on our way to becoming a full-service sporting facility," he said.
Chris Dehnel is a local editor Patch. He has been writing about snow sports for about a dozen years and is a past-president of the Eastern Ski Writers Association.