Ski Rustic... Ski Blandford; A historic mountain reopens its trails

Ski Blandford is back in operation under new management and it is a jewel.

Ski Rustic... Ski Blandford; A historic mountain reopens its trails

It's Winter and there are lots of families deciding what to do during the time off. How about a Massachusetts ski trip? Ski Blandford is back in operation under new management and it is a jewel.

When I think of Blandford Ski Area and the times I had watching my daughter grow up on its slopes, the things I remember most, are the feelings of friendship that radiated around the mountain.

For 75 years, the ski area was operated by the Springfield Ski Club, a totally underfunded group of enthusiastic lovers of the outdoors. Skiing in particular. At 465 vertical feet, Blandford is a small mountain located at the far eastern end of the Berkshire Mountains.

Incorporated in 1936, the Springfield (MA) Ski Club leased a cornfield and cow pasture from a local farmer and in 1936, the first towrope was completed and installed. That first season, dues were set at $2.00 per individual and $3.00 for a family. When the club opened its slopes, a rescue squad/ski patrol was formed by several members to assist injured skiers, developing a rescue toboggan and disposable cardboard splints, used nationwide for many years. When the National Ski Patrol was founded in 1938, Blandford’s group was among the first to join the national organization. 

Two years ago in a heartrending decision, the board of directors put up a proposal from Ski Butternut to purchase the ski area. It put to an end to the longest run of a ski club-owned mountain. And it brought tears to those of us who had sunk our heart and souls into helping it stay afloat. Believe me, if I had won the lottery, my first investment would have been the infrastructure at Blandford.

I first discovered Blandford Ski Area when my daughter was four. We had spent her third year traveling to Vermont to acclimate her to snow and begin the process of learning to ski. The drive from Brooklyn to Mount Snow was brutal on a Friday night, and if we were going to continue I wanted something better.

Google came through. Deciding to use 3 hours and my parents house in Springfield, Massachusetts, as my limits of endurance, Blandford Ski Area came up as the closest. Fifteen years ago it was not easy to find. But what a find. 

The first time I skied its slopes, I couldn't believe that such a small place could have such diverse terrain. And the children's programs were incredible.

 

At the top of the Glade chairlift - 5th Avenue, Yodeler, Boulevard and Blueberry trails

Courtesy of ©Joe Mitchell, Aerial view of Ski Blandford, Massachusetts.

 

My daughter proceeded to work her way through Ski with Me where Lisa Masciadrelli taught her how to ski; Junior Mountain Rangers where Andy Lussier took her fear away; Race Development team taught her the basics of racing on a slalom or GS course.

From there, Eliza joined the Blandford Race team, headed by Bill Scherpa and the all-volunteer corp of coaches dedicated to teaching kids the absolute love of racing down a hill as fast as you can, sometimes in the worst conditions you can imagine. There was Interclub from age 6 to 11, U12, U14, U16, and U19.

In Massachusetts ski racing, the name of Bill Scherpa carries a lot of weight. To have him his race director at Blandford is one of the biggest plusses of the mountain. The program has developed a number of skiers who have gone on to ski in college and beyond. Jillian Scherpa, Bill's daughter and one of my daughter's teammates, now skis for UCONN in their award-winning program.

And now Ski Blandford hosted the first Parallel Slalom race held in Massachusetts on Sunday, February 17. U16 and U19 tri state racers took on the Broadway race trail in a tandem showcase of slalom racing. It was also a chance to showcase the reopened ski area to 200 racers and their families.

 

Caleb Richert (99) and Charles Roseberry racing in the U16 / U19 Panel Slalom race at Blandford Ski Area on February 17, 2019. ©Mark D Phillips


Now my daughter has joined the elite corp of coaches at Blandford and is keeping her racing career going in USSA Masters as she turned 20.

In the spring of 2017, the club’s board notified membership that “Blandford Ski Area is financially insolvent,” owing to member enrollment dropping from a high of about 5,000 down to 1,426 in 2014–15, according to a report in newenglandskiindustry.com. Jeff Murdoch, owner of Ski Butternut, formed Blandford Properties LLC in July 2017 to acquire the 132-acre ski area for $269,000. As soon as the sale went through, the rebranding began with Blandford Ski Area renamed “Ski Blandford” and a new logo similar to Ski Butternut’s.

The new management made the decision to keep the mountain closed for the 2017-2018 season and begin the daunting task of rebuilding the lifts, adding snowmaking, and freshening the lodges.

When they reopened on December 15, 2018, Liza and I were there to be the first up the chairlift to take a run on the Broadway race trail. It was like having your best friend return from a long disappearance. The mountain looked exactly the same, but there was an odd feel to the place. It didn't quite feel like our winter home of the past 15 years.

The first month was challenging. There was no natural snow for weeks. But the new snow guns were pumping snow, and then a pipe burst slowing the snowmaking. Those of us who stuck with the mountain slowly saw the tide turn. A natural snow came. The pipes hung together, and more trails were opened.

The "old" lodge was always our hangout. It still is, but the days of grilling out on the picnic tables on the deck are gone. As is the endless supply of PBR's that were kept cold behind the outdoor bar that we all stocked each Saturday morning. Now we have a restaurant, a beer license that requires us to buy our tall-boy PBRs, and no more crock pots plugged-in all around the lodge.

But the beauty of the area is unquestioned. Nestled at the end of Nye Brook Road, the former Perssons Farm was purchased by the Springfield Ski Club in 1941. The lack of development around it has kept the rustic feel. Having its own covered bridge walkway over Nye Brook is definitely a plus, and the stream has become one of my favorite photography subjects. My collection of ice images from the stream has become the "Nye Brook Collection."

When I met the owner of Ski Butternut, Jef Murdock, at the Ski Blandford open house where they introduced the new management, he stressed to me that it was important to him to “keep the history of skiing in Massachusetts alive and Blandford was a big part of it.”

Ski Blandford is now into its second life. The place where numerous people in Western Massachusetts learned how to ski is back on top once more.

 

Early morning on Broadway for Interclub race held at Blandford Ski Area on January 15, 2012. ©Mark D Phillips
Early morning on Broadway for Interclub race held at Blandford Ski Area on January 15, 2012. ©Mark D Phillips