E arly morning… open sky… gliding downhill through fresh, untouched powder… In skier slang, it’s the “milk run,” the day’s first taste of a smooth, creamy slope.
Powder Ridge Mountain Park & Resort in Middlefield, about a half-hour from New Haven, is enjoying its own kind of milk run, with the swooshes of skiers and snowboarders once again filling the air after a six-season hush. Reopened in late November 2013, the park had been closed since the end of winter 2006-07, with four different owners, three other near-owners and a frustrating trail of scuttled revitalization and development plans in the time between.
Finally, in 2012, local businessman Sean Hayes, owner of Brownstone Exploration and Discovery Park in Portland, CT, purchased the Powder Ridge property from the town of Middlefield, with a promise to invest millions into the site. Whereas Powder’s historically been a winter-only, day-at-a-time pleasure, Hayes views it as a year-round source of recreation, with the 20 or so ski routes converting to mountain biking trails in warmer months, and with resort-style attractions including overnight lodging, shops and three restaurants.
Ambitions were humbler 55 years ago when the ski site known simply as Powder Hill opened for business. Then, skiers made it to the top by grasping a rope tow, which pulled them upward along the surface of the ground. In the mid-1960s, management installed two-seat chairlifts, with a four-seater—New England’s first—to come in 1972. In the ’00s, the town prevented a water park expansion that would have allowed the park to operate year-round. Eventually, those owners put the whole operation on ice and put the site up for sale.
Nearly seven years later, a magnificent view of apple trees dotting Lyman Orchards is yours as you turn onto Powder Hill Road and make your way to the Ridge parking lot, buzzing with guests getting their gear in order. For now, as renovations continue around the grounds, a single building serves as a multi-purpose hub where you can rent equipment, buy lift tickets, shop for ski/snowboard stuff and just kick back and gather your breath. Newcomers to skiing can take advantage of a terrain-based training program in which students learn skills on a groomed, shaped slope, and small children can enjoy Connecticut’s only Burton Riglet Park, a controlled, tailored environment for initiating boarders as young as 24 months. For snowboarders, there’s “the only full-size half-pipe in Connecticut,” according to the website.
For now, pizza and subs prepared in the open air are good for a quick, casual bite before or after hitting the slopes, but the food situation is set to change dramatically in the next few months. Powder Ridge’s main lodge will house a cafeteria-style eatery with waffle-makers and a beer garden; the Ridgeside Tavern, sporting a casual menu; and a fine-dining restaurant, Fire at the Ridge, offering “sophisticated food in a relaxed setting,” with a fireplace to repose by après-ski. Banquet rooms will host corporate events, private dinners and wedding receptions.
Heading up the food is accomplished chef Kevin Cottle, who you may recognize as the runner-up on season 6 of Hell’s Kitchen. Cottle says “loving your local” is central to his food philosophy; accordingly, Fire at the Ridge aims for “artfully inspired regional cuisine,” with locally produced wine and beer available throughout Powder Ridge’s various dining experiences.
The lodge element of the main lodge is envisioned as a reward for the hungry and tired coming down the mountain, as well as a comfortable home base for friends and family to relax, resting feet by the fire pit and watching the action happening outside on flat screen televisions.
But those are future concerns. At present, it’s enough that when the sun dips just below the tree line and the sky’s about to go dark, you can still see a way forward, because the lights are back on at Powder Ridge.
Powder Ridge Mountain Park & Resort
99 Powder Hill Rd, Middlefield (map)
Mon-Fri 9am-10pm, Sat-Sun 8am-10pm, weather and conditions permitting.
Check the website or call ahead before visiting.
Written and photographed by Liz Rubin.