Ski resort open house

| 15 Feb 2012 | 10:39

Mountain Creek’s Red Tail Lodge opens on time and to a crowd of well-wishers Vernon, N.J. — It has been more than 12 years since the lodge at the Vernon Valley Ski Area burned to the ground. And it has been more than a year since Intrawest, the initial developer of Mountain Creek, decided to call it a day and sell its interest in Vernon to Crystal Springs, headquartered in Hardyston, N.J.. And, it has only been a short nine months since the temporary, ugly-yet-functional, white “bubble tents” were disassembled to make way for a state-of-the-art ski lodge, which the developers hope will attract a record number skiers and snowboarders to the township that more than 24,000 Vernonites call home. Last Saturday’s grand opening of the $20 million Red Tail Lodge was dignitary heavy, with a VIP list that included a state senator and assemblyman, current and former Sussex County freeholders, Vernon’s Mayor Vic Marotta, and nearly every member of Vernon’s Township Council as well as many of those who vied for a seat on council in the township’s last election. The VIP treatment is what they got including fare that started with appetizers including sushi, calamari salad, jumbo shrimp cocktail and oysters on the half shell. Dozens of attentive servers offered champagne and scotch, and for children hot cider doughnuts. Shortly after 1 p.m., the festivities moved to the main entrance of the lodge for a ribbon-cutting ceremony that started with an address from Crystal Springs’ driving force Andrew Mulvihill, who credited the timely completion of nine-month project to the cooperation that he received from Vernon’s new governing body. Mulvihill noted that a project of this magnitude would normally require as long as two and a half years, but that the town’s mayor and council helped to make it happen, as did cooperation from the township’s various boards and departments. To date, the developers have not received any tax abatement for the project, according to the mayor. As late as last week, the project looked far from complete but workers put in round the clock hours to get it done. For his efforts on behalf of the resort and the success of the project, Mayor Marotta received an official engraved and autographed Mountain Creek ski for his office. Good for business After a tour of the new facilities, Tammie Horsfield, president of the Sussex County Chamber of Commerce said she felt that the lodge “is a wonderful addition to the resort. It is nice to see the 'tents’ come down and a first class facility take its place.” Horsfield, as well as many of the visitors, was struck with the open design of the new lodge, with its high ceilings and roomy, rustic appeal. “The Biergarten is one of my favorite areas of the lodge, offering a relaxing atmosphere while you dine, enjoy a beverage and watch skiers barreling down the slopes.” Horsfield thinks that all of the lodge’s and resort’s improvements will bring more tourists to Vernon. She believes that there will be a ripple effect as word of mouth helps build interest. She said that a recent tourism economic impact study commissioned by the Chamber showed that tourists spent over $222 million in Sussex County in 2010 and that more than 3,200 jobs were tourism-related jobs. Marotta pronounced the lodge “wonderful. It’s absolutely beautiful.” The mayor said he feels that it is important for the township’s governing body to nurture the resort/recreation industry, which he said has been the number one industry for Vernon since the 1960s. Referring to the blitz that successfully completed the lodge in time for the winter season, Marotta said, “It’s a tremendous achievement.” Skiers are ready Mulvihill, who is a skier and a snowboarder himself, said he expects the resort to be operating very soon as the upcoming nights are forecast to be in the low 20s. But, Mulvihill said he was gratified to see the response from visitors who toured the new lodge. “This is a huge thing for me to see people in here and see how they interact with the space, because you have visions and try to figure it out, but until they come in, you don’t know.” Local skier Ed Seger, 55, has lived in Vernon more than 18 years and has skied for 35 years. He skis with his wife and three sons. In addition to skiing in New England and in the Rockies, he has been skiing at the various local resorts since he arrived in town. He said he tolerated the temporary bubble tents but about the reinvention of the resort he said, “But this is great, this is fantastic, what an upgrade.” Over the last few years he noted that he lives so close to the slopes that after skiing, if the tents were crowded or not inviting, he would just go home. “But now,” Seger added, “with this type of facility here you’d be more inclined to say 'Hey, let’s go in and relax and enjoy the day here, instead of just coming over to ski for a few hours.”