A closer look at Manchester’s most prominent athletic attractions
STORY BY BENJAMIN LERNER
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JIMMY IENNER, JR.
Manchester is a fantastic sports destination for athletes of all ages and skill levels. With wonderful athletic facilities at the Dana L. Thompson Memorial Park and the Northshire Civic Center, celebrated nearby resorts and ski areas (Stratton Mountain Resort, Magic Mountain, Bromley Mountain, and Viking Nordic), and renowned golf courses (Ekwanok Country Club, Manchester Country Club, and The Golf Club at Equinox), athletically-inclined visitors and locals will find ample opportunities for enjoyable recreation throughout the year. The recent updates, improvements, and renovations that have taken place at these resorts, public parks, golf courses, and community centers have paved the way for a new age of prominence and prestige for Manchester’s sports community. It’s impossible to list all of the athletic and recreational activities in the area, but we’ve assembled some highlights here. We can guarantee this: Regardless of the season, Manchester is always a great place to come out and play!
340 Rec Park Road Manchester, VT 05255
The Dana L. Thompson Memorial Park is located north of Manchester’s bustling town center off of Bonnet Street. It encompasses 95 acres, and features a 6-lane swimming pool, three baseball diamonds, the multipurpose athletic fields at Applejack Stadium, a brand-new running track, outdoor basketball courts, tennis courts, pickleball courts, and an expertly-designed skateboard park. The park is open daily until 10PM and hosts a broad assortment of high-profile athletic events and community programs at its spectacular facilities.
(Located on the grounds of Dana L. Thompson Memorial Park)
The crown Jewel of Dana L. Thompson Memorial Park is Applejack Stadium. Widely regarded as the finest natural grass playing surface in the State of Vermont, it features a historic grandstand that was originally constructed in 1887 as part of a horse racing track. The grandstand can hold up to 500 spectators, and is one of the oldest wooden grandstands in the country. Applejack Stadium has two large electronic scoreboards, which were donated through a joint philanthropic partnership between Union Underground and the Manchester Rotary Club. In 2011, a two-story announcing booth was installed, which is equipped with a powerful PA system with wireless microphones. Food and beverages are available through an on-site concession stand. A more recent renovation project in 2020 (which was overseen by Manchester’s Town Manager, John O’Keefe) resulted in the installation of an additional 138 stadium seats, as well as several ADA-accessible seating spaces. VIP seats are located on the eastern side of the stadium. The VIP area is affectionately referred to as “The Dog Pound.” It was named in honor of the Burr & Burton Academy Bulldogs, who play many of their lacrosse, soccer, football, and ultimate frisbee games at Applejack Stadium.
In addition to hosting numerous high-school and middle school games in the spring and fall seasons, Applejack Stadium also hosts many professional and collegiate soccer games. Universities that have come to play at Applejack Stadium include the University of Vermont, Castleton University, Boston College, Boston University, Dartmouth College, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, UMass Amherst, The University of Albany, Middlebury College, and the 2017 and 2018 NCAA Division III Women’s Soccer National Champions, Williams College. To date, Applejack Stadium has hosted more than 30 NCAA men’s and women’s Division I, Division II, and Division III soccer teams.
In the same year (2020) that Applejack Stadium underwent considerable renovations, a relocation agreement was solidified with the Black Rock FC Soccer Club, who plays in the USL League Two. The Black Rock FC Soccer Club used Applejack Stadium as their home field in 2021. In the same year, Black Rock FC was joined by Vermont Fusion, who play in the Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL). This gave Manchester the honorable distinction of being one of the only communities in the
northeastern region of the United States that hosted both a USL League 2 team and a WPSL team in 2021. Although Black Rock FC no longer uses Applejack Stadium as its home field, Vermont Fusion has blossomed in its new home location, and oversees a variety of flourishing youth soccer programs for both boys and girls there. Programs include their Fall Technical Academy, Winter Futsal Program, Spring Soccer Season, Fusion Youth Academy, and Goalkeeping Academy, and the annual Green Mountain Challenge youth soccer event, which is now in its 27th year.
As a result of these high-profile organizational collaborations, the town of Manchester was as able to capitalize on their strategic investments in Applejack Stadium by hosting the first New England Soccer Fest in June and July 2021. During the course of New England Soccer Fest 2021, 11 USL League 2 and WPSL matches were hosted at Applejack Stadium, as well as a WPSL International Combine, which brought top scouts and coaches from National Women’s Soccer League and Italian Series A Soccer League to Manchester. This solidified Manchester’s standing as an epicenter of professional soccer in New England and the Northeast. “It’s been incredible to see Manchester grow into a premier sports destination,” says John O’ Keefe. “Applejack Stadium is a truly special venue, and every team that has come to play here has been incredibly impressed by the facilities.”
In 2022, Applejack Stadium is continuing to build on its success by hosting a series of similarly significant athletic events. Vermont Fusion’s WPSL team will play five games at Applejack Stadium this season, facing off against Clarkstown SC on May 28, NY Shockers on 6/3, Fox Soccer on 6/18, Boston Dream on 6/25, and RI Rogues on 7/9. From July 19-21, Applejack Stadium and Vermont Fusion will host the NE WPSL Regional International Combine. This showcase will welcome 40 field players and ten goalkeepers, who will be able to refine their skills under the tutelage of a team of elite international coaches. Showcase scrimmages will be extensively analyzed by coaches from SICS UEFA in Italy. This will open up the door for athletes who come to Applejack Stadium to pursue recruitment opportunities in European Professional soccer.
On September 10-11, Applejack Stadium will host a premier four-team NCAA Division III regular-season women’s soccer tournament. In addition to New England soccer powerhouses MIT, Williams College, and Castleton University, the women’s soccer team from Claremont Mudd Scripps will be coming to Manchester from California to participate. The tournament is expected to infuse the greater Manchester region with significant economic and cultural vitality.
(Located on the grounds of Dana L. Thompson Memorial Park)
Located a stone’s throw from Applejack Stadium on the grounds of Dana L. Thompson Memorial Park, the Manchester Skatepark serves as a welcoming haven for the local extreme sports community. Notable park features include a rounded bowl and half-pipe combination feature with pool coping at the deepest section, rail and box obstacles, and a small quarter-pipe that is ideal for early learning purposes. A blue mural runs through the park in honor of the Battenkill River, and two conical slope obstacles in the middle of the park pay tribute to the majestic mountains that stand above the town of Manchester.
The Manchester skatepark came into existence as a result of tireless community fundraising, numerous small donations, generous philanthropic contributions, and extensive community collaboration between local residents and Manchester’s town government officials. United under the banner of the Manchester Skatepark Committee, they worked together for years to raise funds and bring the project into reality. With phases 1 and 1.5 complete, Manchester’s skateboarding community is now raising funds to complete additional phases of park development. Manchester’s town Manager, John O’ Keefe, has played a pivotal role in the continued progression of Manchester’s beloved skatepark, as has the owner of the nearby Arson skateboard shop, Bill Strecker. Strecker has also overseen several fun and accessible camps for young people who are looking to refine their skateboarding skills. As he continues to advocate for the completion of additional phases, Strecker is grateful for all of the community support that the park has received – and is looking forward to witnessing further developments in the near future.
Northshire Civic Center – Riley Rink + Hunter Park
410 Hunter Park Road Manchester, VT 05255
Standing on a 35-acre property in the foothills of the Green Mountain National Forest, Northshire Civic Center has been welcoming members of Manchester’s community since it first opened its doors in 1997. With an Olympic-sized indoor ice rink and 22,000 square feet of open floor space, it comes as no surprise that the Northshire Civic Center has continued to thrive for decades as a popular center for sports, events, and exhibitions. In the winter months, public skating programs and youth and adult hockey leagues are hosted at Riley Rink, which is Southern Vermont’s premier ice sports facility. Riley Rink is a community non-profit facility that provides quality athletic programming for children, teens, and adults. Riley Rink also serves as the home of the Northshire Skating Academy, the Northshire Hockey Association, and Burr & Burton Academy’s High School Hockey team. Skate rentals are available throughout the season at Riley Rink, and high-quality food is also available on-site. The space can be rented out for private party events, but reservations are required in advance.
In the warmer months, the ice rink is converted into an indoor turf arena that hosts a broad variety of athletic events, including youth lacrosse, youth baseball, high school field hockey, youth soccer leagues (such as Vermont Fusion’s Spring Season) and men’s and women’s soccer leagues. Northshire Civic Center is also home of the Hunter Park Disc Golf Club. Membership is open to the public, and new members can join through the website by signing up and paying a small fee.
Ekwanok Golf Club
3262 Main Street Manchester, VT 05254
The venerated Ekwanok Golf Club was founded in 1899. Since then, it has developed a well-earned reputation as one of the best classic golf courses in the United States. Ekwanok is a private club, and membership is by invitation of the Board of Governors.
Manchester Country Club
229 Beech Street Manchester, VT 05255
The Manchester Country Club is home to a wonderfully-designed golf course that features dramatic elevation changes and beautiful views. It is lauded by many online reviewers as “the best golf course in Southern Vermont.” Manchester Country Club recently hosted the 2021 New England Senior Amateur Championship, and also hosts a Junior Golf and Training Academy where young players can perfect the fundamentals of the game. Clinics and individual instruction sessions are held on their practice range, and on-course lessons are available with professional staff members. Manchester Country Club’s five-week Golf Conditioning programs help more skilled players advance their technique to the next level, and the Manchester Country Club also has several on-site tennis courts. The course is members-only, and members can apply through their website.
The Golf Club at Equinox
3567 Main Street Manchester, VT 05255
Originally built and designed by legendary golf course designer Walter Travis in 1926, The Golf Club at Equinox’s course has been named one of the “Top 75 Courses in America” by Golf Digest and has been ranked as one of the “Top Three Golf Courses in Vermont” by Golfweek. A 1991 redesign project undertaken by accomplished golf course designer Rees Jones has resulted in a course that is both challenging to seasoned players and accessible to novices. Visitors who book a tee time at The Golf Club at Equinox can revel in the scenic views of the nearby mountains while testing their skills on its undulating terrain and meticulously-manicured greens. Lessons are available for booking through The Golf Club at Equinox website. They are facilitated by a professional staff of experienced golfers, which is helmed by head golf professional Joan McDonald, an established veteran of the LPGA. The course is reserved for members and visitors of the Equinox Golf Resort & Spa. The Golf Club at Equinox offers several different membership options, including Full Membership, Midweek, Afternoon, or Twilight. College and Junior options are also available, and membership inquiries can be made through The Golf Club at Equinox’s website.
Stratton Mountain Resort
5 Village Lodge Road Stratton Mountain, VT 05155
Whether you’re coasting down the snowy slopes of Stratton Mountain Resort on a clear and crisp winter morning or riding the thrilling curves of their well-designed mountain bike park trails on a summer afternoon, Stratton Mountain’s gorgeous facilities always provide a memorable athletic experience.
With 11 lifts, 670 acres of skiable terrain, 99 ski trails, and several challenging terrain parks, Stratton Mountain Resort is a veritable winter sports paradise. Stratton Mountain Resort is Southern Vermont’s premier ski resort and winter destination. With meticulously-maintained ski trails, fast lifts, and a lively resort village, both solo skiers and visiting families will feel right at home.
Stratton Mountain Resort features 160 acres of glade terrain sure to appeal to seasoned off-trail skiers, and their five terrain parks provide a wide range of obstacles for riders seeking to test their aerial skills. The East Byrnes Side boardercross park was designed by the Stratton Parks Crew in collaboration with X Games and Olympic Medalists Lindsey Jacobellis and Ross Powers. At the Big Ben Terrain Park, experienced riders can maximize their potential on expansive park elements such as ride-on boxes, flowing rollers, and down bars. For inexperienced trick riders, Progression Park is an excellent starting point. Looking to learn the basic fundamentals of skiing and snowboarding? The Villager 2 lift leads to beginner-friendly terrain.
In the six decades since it opened its first lift to the public in 1961, Stratton has hosted numerous high-profile winter sports events, including the Burton U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships, which took place at Stratton for three continuous decades. Stratton continues to host professional winter sports events to this day, such as the Red Bull Slide-In Tour, which took place on March 8. 2020 X Games Knuckle Huck Gold Medalist, Zeb Powell (who happens to be an alumnus of the nearby Stratton Mountain School) joined fellow Red Bull athletes Russell Winfield, Jesse Augustinus, Maggie Leon, Brantley Mullins, and LJ Henriquez for a day of exuberant winter sports fun and snowboard demonstrations. In the week that followed, Stratton Mountain Resort hosted The Vermont Open’s 2022 Banked Slalom snowboarding event, which was held on March 12 and 13 at East Byrnes Side Park.
Those who come to Stratton Mountain Resort in the summertime will enjoy a spirited round of golf at the well-maintained and accessible Stratton Golf Course, and they will also notice several key improvements at the Downhill Mountain Bike Park. In the years since the Downhill Mountain Bike Park opened in 2019, the Bike Park’s Manager, Tony Bailey, worked closely with the Vermont-based trail building firm, Sinuosity, to expand the Stratton Bike Park’s trail system. As a result of their continued efforts, several new park elements were added this year. A “Skills Park” at the bottom of the mountain will allow novice riders to practice fundamentals in a relaxed and approachable setting, and a “Jump Trail” will give seasoned riders a chance to showcase their aerial skills.
For additional athletic recreation at Stratton Mountain Resort, head to the Stratton Training & Fitness Center. The Fitness Center features cutting-edge exercise equipment, a 75-foot saltwater swimming pool, massage therapy rooms, a yoga and pilates studio, and a well-stocked gear shop. Stratton Training & Fitness center is also home to exceptional tennis facilities, and offers tennis classes and clinics year-round. In the summertime, the Stratton Training & Fitness Center hosts daily morning instructional clinics, private lessons, and weekend clinics for both children and adults, which are facilitated by the prestigious Cliff Drysdale Tennis School.
Bromley Mountain Ski Resort
3984 Vermont Route 11 Peru, VT 05152
For a fun and casual family ski trip in Southern Vermont, look no further than Bromley Mountain Resort. With affordable ticket prices, diverse ski trails and friendly staff, it’s no wonder that “Vermont’s Sun Mountain” has become a perennial favorite of both Southern Vermont residents and visiting vacationers. In the summertime, families will adore a visit to Bromley’s Mountain Adventure Park. Take a thrilling ride down North America’s first triple-tracked Alpine Slide, beat the heat on their Big Splash Waterslide, or treat yourself to an enjoyable game at their 18-hole mini golf course.
495 Magic Mountain Access Road Londonderry, VT 05148
All it takes is one day of euphoric winter recreation on Magic Mountain’s beautiful slopes to learn why it lives up to its name. With steep topography and narrow, twisting descents, Magic Mountain’s advanced trails are perfect for skilled skiers who yearn for a heart-pumping downhill experience. Their more approachable novice-friendly trails still retain the throwback quality of a classic New England ski resort, offering all skiers and riders who come to visit Magic Mountain a chance to reconnect with the authentic origins of the sport. While recent investments and equipment upgrades have allowed Magic Mountain to smooth some of its rough edges, it still remains firmly rooted in its origins as a quintessential Vermont ski resort. Fresh powder days are the stuff of legend at Magic Mountain, and there are ample opportunities for sensational tree-skiing in the multiple glades that are interspersed from boundary to boundary. Skiers who wish to engage in the time-honored tradition of uphill hiking to reach the mountain summit are able to obtain uphill passes through the resort’s online portal. In order to ensure a safe passage, they are encouraged to stay up to date on weather reports, and are required to stay within the bounds of the designated uphill trail on the east side of the mountain.
615 Little Pond Road Londonderry, VT 05148
With 26 kilometers of both classic and skate skiing trails and another 4 kilometers of dedicated snowshoe trails, Viking Nordic is an ideal destination for Nordic enthusiasts looking to enjoy a trek through Southern Vermont’s backcountry. The atmosphere at Viking Nordic is welcoming and relaxed, and both adult and children’s ski rentals are available on-site. Private, group, and family ski lessons are available at Viking Nordic, and several special “Night Skiing” events are scheduled during every winter season.