Snow Business Like Family Business

sleepy-hollow0817

This close family makes playing fun for others

by Phyl Newbeck

Sandy and Dave Enman (center) bought a closed Nordic ski area in Huntington in 1999 and Sleepy Hollow Inn Ski & Bike Center was born. With their son, Eli, and daughter, Molly Peters, along with other family members, they have grown Sleepy Hollow into a popular destination.

In 1999, Dave Enman was building houses on spec while his wife, Sandy, was working as a CPA. “We were looking for one more piece of property to build a house,” Dave says.

A real estate agent suggested the Sherman Hollow Touring Center in Huntington, a Nordic ski area that had closed in 1993. “Both our kids went to Middlebury College and graduated with no marketable skills other than cross-country skiing,” Dave jokes, “so we decided to buy a ski area.”

The facility now known as Sleepy Hollow Inn Ski & Bike Center has grown under the watchful eyes of Dave, Sandy, and the aforementioned children, Molly and Eli. Lodge and trail improvements, the addition of a wedding venue, and solar-powered snowmaking make it a popular destination for mountain biking, skiing, and exchanging vows.

Sandy and Dave met in a parking lot in Coronado, California. After graduating from the Naval Academy, Dave was stationed there, and Sandy was living with her parents while her father, a teacher in Illinois, taught on a summer scholarship there.

Both had teachers for fathers, and mothers who took care of the family with some jobs on the side. Sandy had majored in social work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign while Dave was a naval engineer.

They married in 1971, and when Dave’s naval service ended in ’73, he enrolled at the University of West Virginia where he earned his master’s degree in physical education. He picked West Virginia because it was equidistant from where Sandy was raised in Ottawa, Illinois, and his own childhood home in Manchester, New Hampshire.

After completing his degree, Dave wanted to return to New England so they set out for Vermont in a Volkswagen bus with a dog, a cat, and young Molly. “And my mom was pregnant with Eli,” Molly adds.

Once in Vermont, Sandy switched gears and studied accounting at The University of Vermont, and, after a period working for an accounting firm, opened her own accounting business.

Dave taught math for a year at Champlain Valley Union High School and for four years in Colchester. After taking a year off to take care of the kids while Sandy finished her CPA training, he went to work as a carpenter and builder for a little over a decade.

He coached track and cross-country at CVU for 20 years, and the kids followed in his athletic footsteps. Both ran cross-country and track and competed in cross-country skiing while at CVU and Middlebury. Eli now coaches the CVU cross-country ski team while Molly coaches both cross-country running and skiing at St. Michael’s College.

Eli was about to graduate with his geology degree at Middlebury when Dave and Sandy bought Sleepy Hollow. After the closure of the ski area, the lodge had fallen into disrepair. “It was horrible,” Sandy says. “The windows were boarded up and animals were coming in and out.” Dave and Eli demolished and reconstructed the building. Eli began working full time with his father when Sleepy Hollow opened in 2000.

After graduating with a degree in biology, Molly spent four years coaching at Middlebury before heading out to Utah to see if she could make it as a professional skier. That’s where she met her future husband, Jason Peters, an Oregon native, and the two moved back to Vermont in 2003. Jason does virtual design for PC Construction. Around the time of Molly’s return to Vermont, the Enmans began to market their property for weddings and Molly joined the team.

“We bought a tent and did six or eight weddings that first summer,” she says, “but after a couple of years of putting up and taking down a 40-by-40 tent we realized we needed something more and built the Round Barn in 2006.” Two years later, an outdoor pavilion was added with both structures designed and built by Dave, helped by the family.

At least 30 weddings are performed annually at Sleepy Hollow with the majority taking place from the end of April through December. There is generally a bit of a lull during mud season, which is when Molly takes her annual vacation to Cancun.

“We got justice one year,” Dave recalls. “They came back to six inches of snow on top of the muddy road. They couldn’t drive all the way up so they had to walk in their flip-flops.”

Emma Troop Cherington got married at Sleepy Hollow on July 1. “It was incredible,” she said. “We had pouring rain all week leading up to it but as we were saying our vows, the sun came through. We were in the outdoor pavilion so we were outside but still under cover.”

Cherington also praised the Round Barn, where they had their reception, as having great lighting and sound. Most of her guests stayed at the inn but others camped out in lean-tos on the property.

Each member of the Enman family has a role. Molly, the self-described chief laundry officer, is in charge of most of the wedding and event planning. She also coordinates the area’s part-time employees — generally four per season.

Dave is the early riser and chief coffee officer. “My goal is to have coffee made before the first guest wakes up,” he says. In addition to handling maintenance and repairs with Eli, he is in charge of plowing and grooming the ski trails, and diversifies his efforts by changing the linens in the guest house.

He has a side business selling used and antique books from the basement of the Round Barn, as well as from another collection at his home. “My goal is to sell the last one the day before I die,” he says “because afterwards I fear they’re going to end up in a bonfire or a dumpster.”

“In the beginning, I did all the buying,” says Sandy “but now I take care of the grandkids and do the tax returns while Eli does the accounting.” Sandy had a retirement party and sold her business but she can’t seem to stop working. Her goal is to fully retire so she can ski every day in the winter. In her spare time, she serves on the board of the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts.

Eli describes himself as chief lawn mower and purchaser-in-chief. He does the groundskeeping and maintenance work and buys the heavy equipment. In 2009, Eli began a sugaring operation that has grown to 1,900 taps. Dave and Molly help out and some of the 20 cords of firewood they cut each year are dedicated to that operation.

Three of the Enmans have very specific breakfast duties. In addition to coffee, Dave is in charge of breakfast meats while Molly takes care of fruit salads and Eli makes the French toast. Working as a family doesn’t breed strife. “It’s easy because we all have our roles,” she says.

Dave and Sandy live down the road from Sleepy Hollow; Eli, at the base of Ski Lodge Drive; and Molly, halfway up the road. “People ask how we got our kids to live nearby,” says Sandy. “We gave them land, built them houses and provide free babysitting.”

The newest generation may not be gainfully employed at Sleepy Hollow but they all enjoy the premises. Molly gave birth to Mya in 2007 and Levi in 2010. That’s also the year Eli’s daughter, Acadia, was born, followed by Ansel in 2013. Eli’s wife, Kasie, is a distance runner with three Vermont City Marathon titles and one World Mountain Running championship. She is Sleepy Hollow’s mountain race director.

Rounding out the family business is Dave’s younger sister, Lindsay, who watches Ansesl most Fridays during the year.

Sleepy Hollow features roughly 30 kilometers of ski trails and 25 kilometers dedicated to mountain bikes. Night skiing was added in 2000, and one major change was the addition of snowmaking in 2012.

“Without that, in the last three years we wouldn’t have been open for months at a time,” says Dave. To help power the snowmaking, the family installed a solar array in 2009 and have been adding panels ever since, including at each of their residences where the sun helps power the family’s fleet of hybrid cars.

Nineteen-year-old Zoey November and her 17-year-old brother, Sam Leo, are Nordic ski racers who have skied at Sleepy Hollow for several years. Zoey graduated from Mount Mansfield Union High School, where Sam still attends, but Eli has allowed them to join the CVU squad when they can’t get to the Ethan Allen Firing Range where MMU practices.

Zoey enjoys the Wednesday night race series and potluck, which attracts everyone from serious racers to the younger siblings and parents of fellow high school Nordic skiers. “It’s a great community event,” she says. Zoey likes the ski area so much that she has been working there part time during her gap year.

Besides the vagaries of weather, challenges at Sleepy Hollow include equipment problems. Dave jokes that everything seems to have a 17-year warranty since so much has broken down during their 18th year. “I had three toilet handles break off on the same day,” he says.

The growth of the wedding business helps keep the family busy in the summer and is the most lucrative part of the operation. “It’s a great part of our business,” Molly says, “because 99 percent of the people are so incredibly happy that day.”

“We’re all very passionate about the outdoors,” Eli says, “but the wedding business makes the recreation business possible. The potential for outdoor recreation adds to the wedding business and the weddings help finance those operations. I couldn’t imagine eliminating either of them.” •