The Northeast ski season, for the most part, has ended and people are now focused on planting gardens and swimming. The season began strong, tapered off and then saw a resurgence of natural snowfall. Looking back, experts say the ski season appears to have been better than average for the region’s resorts.
The ski and snowboarding season in the Northeast started with good snowmaking weather in November that allowed many resorts to open at Thanksgiving. The Christmas and New Year holiday period had a base of natural and man-made snow that attracted visitors to the slopes. But early in the new year temperature fluctuations meant ski areas relied on snowmaking until heavy snowfalls in March brought people back.
Every year SKI Vermont collects data on the number of people who visit resorts across the state. Executive Director Parker Riehle says they are still compiling the data for the annual report. “We gather, track and report on a year-to-year basis to basically see how we track publically the health of the industry and any trends that we’re seeing. The ski areas are really looking more of the economic numbers, more so than the skier visit numbers, but they’ll still look at those and as they compare to other ski states, associations and other ski areas in the region and across the country to kind of see how they stack up.”
Riehle adds that anecdotally it appears this winter was a fairly strong ski season. “This past season is of course looking much better than last year which was a really difficult year for the industry with a very uncooperative snowfall. Whereas this year we had ideal snowmaking conditions, a really strong start to the ski season with those snowmaking conditions for early openings by Thanksgiving, and of course the World Cup coming to Killington was a great way to kick off the season for the whole state. And we hit just about every holiday period where we wanted to. And then we had some incredibly strong snow all through the month of March which really extended the season nicely and kept the skiers and snowboarders coming.”
University of Vermont Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources Senior Lecturer in Parks, Recreation and Tourism David Kaufman teaches ski area management. “Last year was a crummy year. Vermont saw 3.3 million skiers. The year before was an exceptionally strong year. We were at 4.7 million skier days. If I had to guess this year is going to come in somewhere not as good as 3 years ago but about a million skier days better than last year, probably in the 4.2, 4.3, million day skier range, which would be a very, very sold winter for Vermont. Could it have been better? Sure. Could we have done without the roller coaster weather which has become all too familiar? Sure. But will we take it? Absolutely. And I think in reflection everybody is pretty satisfied.”
Kaufman finds a key challenge for resorts this season was a lack of consistent natural snow. “It was kind of a roller coaster. You’d get a little snow and the ski areas would make some snow. And you’ve got to understand the ski areas are superb at making snow here in the Northeast, cover a tremendous amount of terrain, potentially up to 80 percent, 100 percent in a couple of places. And they make great snow. It just costs a lot of money and uses a lot of water. And so once that kind of roller coaster of weather started, especially in February if you recall which was a very, very warm month, they would make snow and then several days later you’d watch it warm up and melt down the mountain and you have to make it all over again.”
As winter weather becomes more unpredictable, Kaufman notes that resorts are planning year-round operations in order to generate more annual revenue. “It generates a revenue stream more consistently throughout the year. An example of that would be Jay Peak, Stowe, Smuggler’s Notch just announced the opening of their multi-million dollar new indoor adventure center. So ski areas are really moving towards the year-round mountain resort operations. And that will help compensate for more of the unexpected that we might expect to see in the winter.”
While most skiing has ended, Riehle says a couple slopes in Vermont are still open. “This past weekend we still had Killington open and they’re still trying to make it to June 1st. Sugarbush was open for one final weekend. And Jay Peak was also open and they may well stay open for another couple weekends here in May depending on the conditions.”
SKI Vermont plans to release its annual report on June 15th.