Ordinarily when a property comes up for sale, maybe the owners are sad about it, but everyone else simply takes it in stride. Not so when Al and Irene Jenks put out an e-mail saying that they intended to sell their 308-acre property in New Ipswich, New Hampshire (about 25 miles west of Nashua).
There was an outpouring of wailing and sorrow from hundreds of people all over southern New England. “This is sad news” … “Like a death in the family” … “Heartbreaking” … “Al and Irene, we are profoundly sad at our loss” … and on and on. The return e-mails came pouring in for weeks.
First of all, everyone’s anguish had little to do with Al and Irene’s home on the property. Built between 1981 and 1985 by Al himself, and finished with the assistance of Irene (also a professional carpenter at one time), using lumber taken from their own forest, it’s of oak post-and-beam construction, with an open floor plan on the first level, featuring a modern kitchen, a dining and living room with woodstove, a full bath, lots of deck space, an office, and a glass-enclosed porch. Upstairs are three bedrooms and a half bath. Here their two boys, Tom and Andy, now adults and on their own, were born and where Andy was home-schooled.
And from here you can see forever. Located atop a hill facing south and west, it’s probably the most spectacular house site we’ve seen in many years. The view to the south is of a two-acre pond (there are four ponds on the property), Barrett Mountain, and New Ipswich Mountain. To the west, the view includes Mount Monadnock 10 miles away, as well as Vermont’s Haystack Mountain. You can even see Mount Greylock in Adams, Massachusetts, 63 miles away. The day we recently sat on the front deck with Al and Irene, drinking in all that countryside, we just didn’t ever want to leave.
So if it’s not the house, why are so many people upset about Irene and Al’s decision to sell their property? Well, it just so happens that Irene and Al own and preside over one of New England’s major and best-loved winter attractions. It’s known as Windblown.
Windblown is one of New England’s original cross-country ski resorts (photos, trail map, and more at windblownxc.com). Anyone who skis cross-country or snowshoes and lives within driving distance of southern New Hampshire knows about Windblown. Thousands of folks–as many as 600 to 800 on good winter days–have enjoyed its more than 25 miles of groomed trails.
Some have stayed overnight in what’s known as “The Warming Hut,” or maybe in one of Windblown’s rental cabins. They’ve picnicked, maybe camped, at one of the well-constructed shelters scattered about the property, and, of course, have rented skis and enjoyed hearty meals in the spacious and beautiful base lodge, featuring a modern kitchen, a large fireplace, cathedral ceilings, two surprisingly luxurious bathrooms, and huge expanses of glass.
To us, one of Windblown’s most remarkable aspects is that, since he acquired the property in 1963 and opened for business in 1972, Al has constructed every building with his own hands, using his own trees. No help at all? Well, Irene, whom he met in 1984, has been his invaluable partner, and their two boys during their teenage years, along with some of their friends, were very much involved in the business. But, as Irene told us, “Al can build anything and Al can fix anything.”
Yes, deciding to sell didn’t come easily for Al and Irene. Windblown has been their life, and they do, indeed, feel a bond with all those people who’ve grown to love them and what they’ve created here, and who now worry about Windblown’s future. But after all these incredibly busy years, Al and Irene would like a simpler life, and their boys don’t feel they want to carry on with the property.
As to Windblown’s future, well, Al is convinced that a new owner (or owners) could expand it into a four-season resort featuring not only winter sports but also activities such as wilderness training workshops, mountain biking, horseback riding, trail running, rope courses, disc golf, and camping. Even now, as strictly a winter resort, the Jenks family has been able to realize $30,000 to $100,000 a year after expenses, and if anyone wants proof of that, Al would be glad to show Windblown’s tax returns.
“On good snow years,” Al says, “we’ve built new buildings, and on poor snow years we’ve simply repaired and improved things. We’ve never spent money we didn’t have.”
Of course, an ice storm last December was devastating to the trails, but since then everything has been cleaned up, and this month Windblown is back in tiptop shape, ready to start another great season. (The Old Farmer’s Almanac, you know, is predicting a snowstorm in New Hampshire for Thanksgiving. Maybe for Christmas, too!)
Al and Irene’s asking price, $2,200,000, includes far more than we can even begin to describe here. The list of equipment alone goes for two typewritten pages. (It includes two big snowcats for trail grooming, as well as various trucks, a tractor, and snowmobiles kept in the many barns, garages, and workshops Al has built.)
In our view, the price is actually a bargain, but then again, money may not be the major consideration. A family taking over Windblown would be starting a new life–and leaving their past life behind. There’s really no other way to put it.
At some point while sitting with Al and Irene on their deck overlooking that incredible view, we asked about the challenges a new owner would have to be willing to face.
“The hardest part of the job for me,” Al replied, “is waking up at 3:00 a.m. to find the rain-soaked snow firmly frozen, and realizing that it will take many hours of difficult grooming to make it skiable–but maybe the machinery won’t start and 400 skiers are expected within a few hours. For Irene, it would be finding enough workers among our family and friends to staff the various jobs that get us through another weekend.”
And the good parts? “Well,” Al continued, “our joys come from accepting the challenges, overcoming them, and seeing the happiness it brings to others. We live in a beautiful place in a special corner of the world, experiencing a life that’s close to nature. We feel very fortunate.”
One thing we can guarantee: When an e-mail goes out to the 3,000 people on Windblown’s customer list saying that Al and Irene have found someone–or some family, or families–to take over and carry on, there will be cheering and great joy throughout southern New England.
Now, how much is that worth?
For details, contact Al or Irene Jenks at 603-878-2869, or via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org