They’ll be creeping ‘round the mountain at Nashoba Valley Ski Area in Westford, as the slopes give way to slithering, slimy ghouls at the ski resort’s annual Witch’s Woods Halloween attraction.

They’ll be creeping ‘round the mountain at Nashoba Valley Ski Area in Westford, as the slopes give way to slithering, slimy ghouls at the ski resort’s annual Witch’s Woods Halloween attraction.

Al Fletcher, owner of Nashoba Valley Ski Area, said, new this year is Horrorwood Chamber of Chills, a tribute to Hollywood horror icons – not actual actors or characters, but a panoply of archetypal scenes movie fans will instantly recognize, including mummies, vampires and the leering like.

“Each character is surrounded by a set, with special effect lighting,” said Fletcher. Kind of like an art museum, but a lot noisier, with “hidden scares” each creaking step.

In addition, the traditional hayride is completely redone; Fletcher was reluctant to describe the theme of the hayride – which typically stops at improvised sets in which a horror scene is acted out – but said to think of the new American frontier, circa 1809, and the wonderful lore that permeated literature at that time, including the work of Washington Irving of “Sleepy Hollow” fame.

Nightmare Mansion – no, not a tribute to the foreclosure epidemic – and Castle Morbid await visitors with an open house but a pretty twisted idea of hospitality.

Although the surprise element is essential at most Halloween seasonal attractions, part of its appeal undoubtedly is the weirdly comforting feeling that comes from the familiar – goofy laboratories, crypts with less-than-sedentary occupants, rocking chairs on autopilot.

Some are multi-dimensional, literally – including a Three-D crypt, which Fletcher described as “great eye candy,” in which visitors don special spectacles that create an unreal, disorienting effect.

Deathly distraction

As Witch’s Woods enters its ninth season, Fletcher said he and his staff have learned a lot about what it takes to scare folks into having a good time. Essential is the element of surprise. The key? Distraction.

“The easiest way to scare someone is to put their attention on something else,” said Fletcher. And, while distracted, you have them.

Another insight: professional sets, costumes and makeup make the difference in creating something that is both attractively campy and capable of suspension of disbelief. “When we started we were just using robes and masks. Now, we have artists doing professional airbrushing,” said Fletcher, who said enlisting the talents of Boneyard Productions has helped upgrade the quality.

For the ski area, it has been a way to keep profits flowing when it isn’t snowing, as many ski parks find alternative uses for their property when ski revenues sometimes go downhill.

By all accounts, Witch’s Woods has worked the hoped-for magic, last year, 35,000 scare-seekers came, slightly down from the previous year because, as Fletcher described it, “one of our four Boston sports teams, who shall remain nameless.” He noted the ski area’s restaurant and bar, The Outlook, was by contrast at capacity as breathless game watchers swarmed the television.

But, for the popularity of Halloween attractions, some have drawn their share of complaints, mostly about waiting in line in the cold to board the hayride. Fletcher said, as Halloween approaches, the lines and the wait do get longer.

For those who don’t like long waits, he suggested going on nights that are less well attended, such as Sunday nights. “The wait might be 10 to 15 minutes, maximum. Toward the end (of the month) you might be waiting an hour.”

Overall, Fletcher said there have never been any serious issues, although emotions can run high at such events; police details are always on hand, and staff do not touch the patrons – and patrons likewise are asked to be respectful and not touch or confront the staff.

A cast of about 150 – mostly residents of area communities, and few with professional acting backgrounds – take on alter egos as clawing clowns, overactive corpses and voluptuous vampires.

Brian Brandt, of Derry, N.H., co-director of Witch’s Woods, has been involved sine the beginning, and has done pretty much everything, including portraying a deranged chainsaw wielder.

“I love to set up. The people we work with are always outstanding. Trying to put on a live show is kind of a feat and a challenge in and of itself.”

What scares people the most?

“We have a wealth of scary clowns…we have a lot of people who are absolutely terrified of clowns.”

Brandon Kelley, 22, of Fitchburg, who variously helps build and paint sets and has done stints as a zombie, said visitors’ reactions can range from hysterical shrieks to delight, including spontaneous dancing and singing Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,’’ evoking the song’s video, with its famous zombie choreography.

Kelley, who has a theater background and who has also worked on cruise boats as a pirate among other entertainment jobs, said of working at Witch’s Woods: “I have learned how to deal with crowds and people, more than if I had only experience on stage….it’s fun to be right there.”

Yes, for these “working stiffs,” job satisfaction is in evidence.

Brandt admits; “To this day, I can’t get enough of the screams. It’s just fulfilling. Either I’m sick and twisted, or it’s all part of the job.”

If you go

Witch’s Woods is located at Nashoba Valley Ski Area, 79 Powers Road, Westford. Open every night from Thursday, Oct. 2 through Saturday, Nov. 1 at 6:30 p.m.

Tickets are $25 for adults and $23 for children under 12. Those who want to secure their scare early, advance ticket sales for opening weekend are $15 by reserving online. Group rates are available for clans of 15 or more. For more information, please visit  

Margaret Smith is Arts and Calendar editor at Community Newspaper Company’s Northwest Unit. E-mail her at