It was a strange visual: A ski lodge at a seemingly thriving resort shuttered in the middle of the Presidents Day vacation week. Normally, ski lodges in Vermont in the third week of February are hustling, bustling places with endless activity, regardless of the weather conditions.
But the clubhouse, as the ski lodge at the Hermitage Club at Haystack Mountain is known, was devoid of much life this week. How ironic, that a private club that sells exclusivity, for a significant price, was experiencing cash flow problems and was shut down during what should be one of the busiest weeks of the ski season.
What really kicked off the current round of hand-wringing was when the club had difficulty meeting payroll last week. Employees were not happy about that, understandably so. No doubt most employees are dependent on being paid on a regular basis. It was a bad look for the club heading into the Presidents Day holiday.
On top of that, there appears to be a standoff between members and ownership over what direction the club should take, and whether or not owner Jim Barnes will cede management and ownership to the members, or to another entity altogether.
What’s emerging quite clearly at this point is that beneath the glitz and glamor of the swanky private club, the financial underpinnings have become a house of cards. Of course, the handwriting has been on the wall for a while, as club officials have scrambled during the past two years to make tax payments, pay vendors, and keep the enterprise afloat. But not making payroll during the middle of the ski season has taken this to an entirely new level.
The other thing that makes this difficult time even more difficult is the misinformation that flies around the valley. Rumors are generally based somewhat in truth, but trying to get a handle on what is happening has been difficult, not just for reporters at The Deerfield Valley News, but for employees and vendors as well. We can only go on secondhand information or what people are willing to talk about on the record. For locals it was frustrating. For an international worker who came looking for a nice, stable winter job in the United States, the lack of real information may be downright frightening.
We’re not necessarily faulting anyone for that, its just that the rumor mill here in the valley spreads faster than wildfire on a dry hillside.
Was it only a matter of time before this situation happened? We don’t know for certain. We are not privy to the club’s financial statements, nor are we privy to the meetings that have taken place between members and management discussing the club’s future. We hear that in some ways it’s been a game of chicken. That is unfortunate, because real lives are being hurt by the uncertainty surrounding the club.
Unfortunately, the current unstable financial situation at the Hermitage Club is just one more time that the owners of Haystack Mountain can’t catch a break. One could make the case that this is just the next progression in the 10- to 15-year boom and bust cycles Haystack seems to go through. Financial issues have beset the mountain with regularity, regardless of who owns the resort. Given the mountain’s history, events this week shouldn’t come as a complete surprise to veteran ski industry watchers.
What remains to be seen is where the Hermitage Club goes from here. There is a tremendous amount of capital, both financial and personal, invested in the club by management, members, and everyday workers. Hopefully, by the end of this week, there is enough of that capital still available to pull the Hermitage Club back from the brink it appears to be teetering on.