Keeping Score: Bill Benneyan’s uphill climb

Published: 6/26/2020 5:07:36 PM

Good morning!
Greenfield native Bill Benneyan (GHS ’79) has been tabbed to lead the Hermitage Club at Haystack out of the red and into the black. “Haystack was a favorite stomping ground for me growing up,” the 58-year-old Benneyan said in a press release. “I’m pleased to be able to return to my roots.”

Benneyan describes himself on LinkedIn as a “nationally recognized resort operator and strategist.” He grew up in Greenfield delivering the Recorder and working on ski patrol at Berkshire East. He graduated from Colgate, moved to Brattleboro, raced for the West Hill Shop cycling team in Putney, organized triathlons and helped set up winter carnivals.

After management stints with U.S. Skiing and Burton Snowboards, Benneyan left for New Jersey to be the business director at Mountain Creek Resort. He was promoted to president and COO in 2012, but five years later the company filed for bankruptcy. Not everyone was sad to see it go under. “For decades, this resort has been an excuse for high density development in the middle of an environmentally sensitive mountain,” a Sierra Club spokesman told the New Jersey Herald.   

Benneyan’s goal at Haystack will be to help investors recoup their losses. Located five miles south of Mount Snow in Wilmington, Haystack has changed owners and teetered on the brink of bankruptcy since it opened in the early 1960s. Skiers weren’t tempted by the smaller mountain’s low-priced lift tickets and opted for Mount Snow and other big guns further north.

In 2005, Connecticut billionaire Robert Foisie bought Haystack for $5 million. “Our model will be executed in high end fashion,” said spokesman David Dillon. Foisie was described as a Jekyll-and-Hyde sort who once allegedly hired a hit man to kill his son Michael in a dispute regarding the family business. Divorce documents uncovered by the Boston Globe showed that Foisie lost $18 million on his Haystack venture. He died two years ago.

In 2012, Connecticut businessman Jim Barnes sold his Oakleaf Waste Management Company for $425 million and bought Haystack for $6.2 million. Barnes said he wanted to build a private ski resort that was comparable to the Yellowstone Club in Montana. One of his first moves was to name the high-speed chairlift the Barnstormer Express.

The Hermitage Club at Haystack Mountain was, wrote Deb Berry for Fast Company Magazine, “the only high-end bastion for private powder in the East. … Snowmobiling on the mountain after dark, traveling to a mountaintop cabin by Sno-Cat for oysters and champagne by the fire, feasting on lobster by candlelight in a dining room adorned with Michel Delacroix paintings, and decamping to the 5,000-bottle wine cellar for tastings.”

Knowing his clients’ egos were as big as the mountain, Barnes installed an “edit suite” where would-be Franz Klammers could slice and dice footage from their GoPro helmets to post on social media.

Barnes tapped out two years ago. The state shuttered the resort for unpaid taxes and Berkshire Bank claimed he owed $16.3 million plus $2.1 million in bridge loans and interest fees. In March, 150 former Hermitage Club members ponied up $55,000 apiece to buy Haystack at auction for $8,060,000.

“Many of them own property on or near the club and keeping it running will increase the value,” explained Doug Stotz, who was Benneyan’s GHS classmate. (Other than two brief emails, Benneyan had no comment. A phone call was unanswered, and a message to return the call was ignored). “Now Bill will have to deliver a great skiing experience within budget and attract new members.”

It’s a mission that is easier said than done, just ask everyone else who tried.

These are strange times indeed. In Gainesville, University of Florida president Kent Fuchs has banned the Gator Cheer, saying it evokes “horrific historic racist imagery.”

Fuchs was referring to when hunters put Black babies and children in the water to lure alligators into their gunsights. This happened in the late 1800s and early 1900s, according to the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University in Michigan.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, the cheer started after a win against Florida State in 1995 when All-American defensive back Lawrence Wright told reporters, “If ya ain’t a Gator, ya Gator bait baby.”

“The Gator Nation is a culture, too,” Wright told the Sentinel’s Edgar Thompson. “It’s not about what happened way back in the past. How about our culture?”

At this writing 23,591 fans had signed an online petition opposing the ban. Meanwhile, LSU fans will continue their tailgating tradition of barbecuing alligator before home games against Florida.

Boston Globe columnist Victoria L. Jackson demanded the college football season be canceled. “Schools need to stop promoting a rotten model that takes unfair advantage of young Black men and their talents…” 

Better ask the players first, Victoria. Maybe they like the sport, the camaraderie, and the rush of being the big men on campus.

Former WFAN host Craig Carton was released from federal prison on Tuesday after serving 14 months of a 42-month sentence for running a Ponzi scheme to pay off gambling debts. “He did everything he possibly could in jail to mitigate his sentence and get out as soon as he possibly could,” said his sidekick Boomer Esiason. Don’t be surprised if Carton returns to WFAN, which is suffering from a dearth of on-air talent.

HORSE PLAY: The winner of Saturday’s Wonder Again Stakes, Sweet Melania, is named for the First Lady. … Quid won the sixth race at Belmont on June 18. Quid was the nickname that students called Deerfield headmaster Frank L. Boyden. … FS1 analyst Richard Migliore joked that Fluent in Sarcasm is “named for our colleague Andy Serling.”… Mosienko is named after Chicago Blackhawks forward Bill Mosienko, who scored the fastest hat trick in NHL history, three goals in 21 seconds against the Rangers in 1952.  … Stood up at the window: Cold Hearted Wench finished off the board at 10-1 last out at Churchill. … At Belmont last week a first time starter named Primacy keyed a 10-cent super that paid 83 cents. Get out the tax forms. … The NY Post’s Steve Serby asked Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez to name his favorite movie. “A Bronx Tale,” said Johnny V. “We were proud when they filmed us racing at Aqueduct. We watch it all the time.” … Betting Angles: Trainer Wesley Ward has his maidens ready to fire first out; Nick Zito races his horses into shape. … The next time jockey Jose Lezcano is riding for trainer Linda Rice, keep in mind he’s married to Rice’s niece. … Chestertown (named for a town in New York), placed second last time out and is struggling to pay back the $2 million he cost at the 2019 Ocala Breeders’ Sale; Gun It cost $2.6 million and has two wins in 11 starts.

SQUIBBERS: Singer, songwriter and Golden Globe winner Kris Kristofferson turned 84 on Sunday. Kristofferson grew up in California where his boxing, rugby and football prowess earned him a spot in SI’s “Faces in the Crowd.” … Williams College SID Dick Quinn informs us that Alyssa Amos Clark (’15) broke a world record on May 30 by running her 61st marathon in 61 days. “Pretty impressive in any light, but overcoming having her colon removed at age 14 adds to it.” … Jack Nicklaus’s grandson Nick O’Leary is recovering from a heart procedure to unclog a fully blocked artery. O’Leary played at Florida State and was drafted in the sixth round by the Bills in 2015. … Queens native Mike Repole wants to help JLo and A-Rod buy the Mets. Repole’s a thoroughbred fan whose stable has won 917 races in 15 years. … Congrats to Greenfield’s Todd McDonald for his part in getting the Springfield T-Birds’ attendance up over the 5,000 mark for the second straight season. McDonald is the club’s veep for sales and strategy. … If you see Wid Perry out and about, tell him thanks for the shoutout. … It won’t be long before UMass AD Ryan Bamford has a football update. Team testing for COVID-19 reportedly costs $15,000 a week, and UMass doesn’t have a conference alignment to help absorb the expense. … During my travels down to Hadley and Amherst and up to Winchester and Hinsdale, I’ve noticed that most people to the south wear face masks, and most to the north do not. … Former Washington Huskies coach and ESPN analyst Rick Neuheisel said that social distancing might negatively impact a person’s immune system. Neuheisel is addicted to football or he wouldn’t say something so dumb. … “Little League baseball is a very good thing,” said Yogi Berra. “It keeps the parents off the streets.”

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached at chipjet95@yahoo.com 


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