The cross country skiing industry is hoping for a big season this winter, as the pandemic is pushing many people to head outdoors for entertainment.
But for the first time in nearly half a century, the trails at Windblown Cross Country Skiing and Snowshoeing will be closed.
This past weekend, the beloved ski area, located in a quiet corner of New Ipswich, had a liquidation sale, and by 11 a.m. on Saturday morning, more than 200 people had cleaned out the ski shop.
"There isn't a ski left in the place,” said Al Jenks, who’s owned and operated Windblown for 48 years.
The 74-year-old says it was the busiest ski swap he’s ever had, and it’ll be his last.
This weekend’s sale, and Windblown's closure, marks the end of an era for mom and pop cross country ski areas in the Monadnock Region. Jenks says Windblown was one of -- if not the -- last of those areas. A changing climate and the tough economics of running a cross country ski area each played a part, he said.
“They all disappeared over time for a variety of reasons but a huge one has been the warmer temperatures, the inconsistent winters,” he said.
To cope with warmer and rainier winters, Jenks had put in 40 culverts over the past two decades to drain water off of the trails. He also adapted to deal with low snow conditions. There’d be days when Jenks would ski with a shovel instead of poles.
The skiers he’d ride past would comment, “Boy, that’s a pretty big ski pole,” as he would grab a scoop of snow to cover up any brown spots on the track.
As a high school senior, Jenks bought the 400 acres on which Windblown sits with a loan from his grandfather. He said he wanted his ski area to be a place people felt welcomed, and that they were a part of the community. A customer at Saturday’s ski swap told Jenks he’d skied all over New England, but he’d been coming to Windblown since the 70s.
“He said it was a unique experience," Jenks said. "It wasn’t just the land, the trails, the grooming, but the people. The folks that I would try to hire would be friendly, open hearted,generous, caring people. It shows. The feeling that it’s a family affair.”
And the people, Jenks said, is what he’ll miss the most. The 4 a.m. wake up call for grooming trails? Not so much.
As he starts retirement this winter, Jenks plans on sleeping in and getting to ski other trails in New England for fun, and with an attention to detail.
“Being a snow groomer for 48 years, I’ll be checking out their grooming and making mental notes,” he said, with a chuckle.