If you've spent any time in New England, you'll know the area is strewn with small, family run ski resorts, many that have recently turned their attention to providing summer activities in order to boost business. Berkshire East Ski Resort in Charlemont, Massachusetts, is one such mom and pop shop, who have tightened up their ship to move from listless ski area to a year-round adventure destination.
"My father bought this place out of bankruptcy for a dollar in 1975," says Jon Schaefer, Co-Owner and General Manager of Berkshire East. "There's four brothers and we grew up here ski racing, in a bit of a transient life between here in winters and Michigan in the summers." At some point during his ownership, Jon's father brought in some partners. "So in 2008 this place was pretty sleepy, my brother bought out the partners and brought in myself and Tyler Conrad. We built zip lines in '09 and then really attacked ski infrastructure - snowmaking, electrical and lifts. We really worked on the backbone. Customers will see the snow is much better, and we are the first ski area to run off 100% renewable energy."
The renewable energy comes from a 500 kWh solar facility and a 900 kWh wind turbine, located on the top of the mountain that powers the resort's operations in its entirety. After the price of power issue was fixed, the Schaefers and Tyler built a new lodge. Then in 2013, they brought in the Mountain Coaster, a mix between an alpine slide and a roller coaster, along with a new quad chair. "This year is the mountain making year. We went from infrastructure and being able to function as a business to customer service type things. A new lodge, more amenities, mountain biking, the mountain coaster, and white water rafting."
So what was the catalyst to build a bike park? "As brothers we grew up mountain biking and ski racing. Through ski racing I spent a lot of time in NZ, Australia, Europe - you end up in a lot of areas so you pay attention to those communities and see what we should be doing. More recently we went to Kingdom trails in '09 and thought 'We can build this.' We've got the land, so we built 35 miles of singletrack which is mostly intermediate/advanced but rides nicely, a lot of big climbs, big descents. That was kind of like the test run of the mountain bike business."
The Schaefers had done what many other areas had tried to do, built long rooty, rocky singletrack, but then realized something was missing. "We realized we hadn't built things for the beginner/intermediate" says Jon.
This is where Gravity Logic came in. "That's Gravity Logic's sweet spot - they do a really good job of making an area accessible for the first time mountain biker, the long time mountain biker, families and kids." Gravity Logic's founders Tom "Pro" Prochazka, Rob Cocquyt and Dave Kelly were key players in the building and success of the Whistler Bike Park and have taken their trail building and bike park business knowledge and experience across the globe, helping ski resorts and other bike parks develop trail networks and implement structure. The service doesn't just stop at designing, planning and trail building - the team comes in to assist with Instructor Development programs, retail and rental training, sponsorship strategies and safety risk and management.
"Gravity Logic have a great reputation - their whole MO is being a category killer. Dave (Kelly) came out within a week, he started telling me he was busy and had a lot lined up for this year, and we basically had a conversation where we said, 'Do any of those mountains wants you to start next week? He was like, 'Nope.' And we said, 'Come on in.' We've become good friends, they're nice guys, hopefully they will keep building; I feel like they have a rapport with the mountain, they like it here and it fits what they want to do."
Dave and the Gravity Logic team have set up a five-year trail building plan for the mountain, but the team at Berkshire East are keen to fast-track that. Gravity Logic will be spending most of the summer at the resort, laying in new trails. Since initial building started, there are now 12 trails open at Berkshire East equating to 12 miles of downhill. The green trail is 3.6 miles long - that's the longest green descent in North America. There are also six blue trails that range from rooty flowing singletrack to mid sized jumps, three black trails, and "For the Pinkbike crowd, says Jon, "we've got two double blacks."
For those new to downhilling there are 39 rental bikes available as well as "Discover Your Ride" group lessons held twice daily and private lessons. For those seasoned with gravity riding, the Eastern States Downhill series will be stopping in Berkshire East on September 27 to race on "The Schist" Thunder Mountain's new purpose-built double black DH race track. Could enduro be on the cards? Jon says, "We'd love to do an enduro".
|The vision is not just for Berkshire East the ski area, it's for the whole area. We want people to leave the town and think, "Wow, that was an awesome weekend. We've got the whitewater rafting, the zip line, the coaster, the mountain biking... It's a beautiful area, there's great things culturally, just the whole area has to piece it together more effectively for outside visitors but we'll get there. - Jon Schaefer|
The motivation from Schaefer and the Berkshire East team is evident; expect lots of changes to the resort not only this year, but in the coming years. As we chatted we were interrupted by some riders that wanted to thank Jon and Tyler for the work they've put into the bike park. The riders talk about how other places talk about doing things differently, but don't ever quite get there. Jon simply smiles and answers, "Thanks. We'll let our trails do the talking."Hours of Operation:
10am - 5 pm - Mon / Thursday / Sunday
Tues Wed - Closed.
10 am - 7 pm Friday / Sat Subject to change.
For more information about Thunder Mountain Bike Park check out the website
For more information about Gravity Logic click here