Mount Southington turns 50

By Lisa Capobianco

Staff Writer

For Steve Positano of Bristol, the thought of Ski Mount Southington turning 50 years old this month is unimaginable. Serving full-time as the Snow Sports School director, Positano has worked at Mount Southington for 23 years, and remembers learning the ins and outs of the slopes there as a child.

“My father took me here when I was seven,” Positano recalls.  “It is hard to believe that it has been 50 years. It is quite an accomplishment.”

Mount Southington will celebrate its 50th Anniversary on Saturday, Jan. 11, when a ceremonial ribbon cutting will take place, along with games, prizes, giveaways, and live music. Positano, who also enjoys snowboarding, became a ski instructor at Mount Southington when he was 16 years old.

“I just love skiing,” Positano said. “I started as an instructor. I really liked it, and I just moved up from there.”

Positano said he feels proud of how Mount Southington has changed from the time he started skiing there until now, especially for children.  He recalls how children as young as four years old now learn how to ski in a dedicated section of the mountain, called “The Glacier,” located the Alpine Eatery. Mount Southington’s lessons focus on games and exercises that help teach skills to children age four to 12 while giving them the opportunity to have fun. “The Glacier” also features a Magic Carpet Lift, a type of surface lift to transport young skiers and beginners up a hill.

“It is fun,” Positano said.  “A lot of the kids are not scared to fall. It is game-based learning.”

President and General Manager Ed Beckley, who has worked at Mount Southington for 35 years, also feels proud of the changes he has seen for children. Beckley said Mount Southington did not offer “The Glacier” area for children when he first started working there, adding that today there is “a focus on young people starting.”

A decade after Mount Southington opened, Beckley worked as a rental shop manager while his college friend became the general manager. When his friend decided to open his own ski area in Oregon, Beckley took over, and from then on, he saw Mount Southington evolve into what it is today. From sophisticated chair lifts to magic carpet lifts to enhanced skis with better binding, Beckley has seen the equipment evolve over the years, especially with snowmaking, which has transformed from homemade pipe combination guns to high-tech guns.

“We are now pumping 1,800 gallons of water a minute,” said Beckley, adding that Mount Southington uses two different methods to make snow, including a fan gun that shoots compressed air and water through nozzles.

Mount Southington opened its slopes in 1964 after Dr. Harold Richman and his wife returned from a ski trip in Vermont, where they felt inspired to establish a ski area in Central Connecticut, according to Beckley. The Richman family, along with the Palmisano family of Bristol and other local investors, purchased a dairy farm in Southington as the site. They carved out trails, put in snowmaking equipment and lifts, creating Ski Mount Southington.  Now known as The Red Barn Café today, a red barn became a rental shop and an eating area, according to Mount Southington’s website. The farmhouse eventually became the home for offices, along with ticket sales in its windows. Today Mount Southington also offers a ski accessory shop as well as dining areas for guests, including the Alpine Eatery Lounge, the Red Barn Cafeteria, and now a waffle house.

“It is a community-oriented business that has supplied jobs for so many people,” said Beckley, adding that Mount Southington now has a staff of 350 employees, including 190 ski instructors, all from surrounding towns, including Bristol, Plainville and Wolcott.

Equipped with four chair lifts, 14 different trails for skiers of all levels and state-of-the-art snowmaking, Mount Southington also features two terrain parks—The Drop Zone and the Turkey Turn Park, which offer a variety of new and challenging elements for snowboarders and skiers.

“When I came on board, it evolved into snowboarding and skiing for handicapped people,” said Beckley, adding that Mount Southington has also improved its safety over the years, offering visitors help from volunteers of the National Ski Patrol and Ranger Program.

Mount Southington also serves as the home for various ski race teams for people of all ages. About 24 high school teams from throughout the state race in the Connecticut Interscholastic Ski League from January to March, and skiers age eight to 20 have the opportunity to join the Mount Southington Race Team, a youth racing academy that helps them achieve the skills necessary for racing competitions in the future. Adults over age 18 of the Connecticut Ski Council Clubs also compete on the slopes once a week at Mount Southington as well as members of the Connecticut Ski Industrial Club.

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