‘It’s been a brutal season’: VT ski business reeling from COVID and weather

Vermont’s ski industry is hurting, slammed with COVID-19 travel restrictions keeping out-of-state skiers away, and stingy natural snowfall combined with warm temperatures hindering artificial snowmaking.

Skier visits are down 30-70% from last year, Vermont Ski Association spokesman Adam White said Monday.

“I think the interstate travel restrictions are a big part of that,” White said. “People are aware at this point they do need to self-quarantine if they come to Vermont.”

Visitors to Vermont must self-quarantine for 14 days, or for seven days followed by a negative test result for COVID-19. Getting a test result quickly is “possible, but difficult,” because of the limited availability of testing, White said.

Ski patrol at Bolton Valley Resort shovels off their hut on Thursday morning, Jan. 16, 2020, as a winter storm continued to dump snow on the Green Mountains. Vermont's ski resorts are hoping for a similar storm this year.

Adding to the ski resorts’ woes, only 49% of alpine terrain is open statewide, White said. A year ago, 78% of Vermont’s alpine terrain was open. The five-year average for Jan. 11 is 77% of alpine terrain open, and the 10-year average is 71%.

“Lean natural snowfall and unseasonably warm temperatures persisted during the early season and through December,” White said.

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Record high temperatures don’t help

Vermont saw record high temperatures around the Christmas holiday, normally a very busy time for ski resorts. Snowmaking is not an option in temperatures above 32 degrees, White said.

“Honestly, we’re experiencing one of the worst two or three winters in the past 15 years,” he said. “Vermont has the best snowmaking in the world, but if the temperature is not cooperating, it doesn’t matter.”

You can't make snow if the temperatures are above freezing, as they have been too often so far this year.

Optimal temperatures for snowmaking are between 20 and 30 degrees. Since Christmas, temperatures have been colder, and the amount of open terrain statewide rose by 26% in the last 14 days. White said he expected that trend to continue.

Snowmaking is particularly important this year because of the need to spread skiers out on the mountain in light of COVID-19.

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Ski resort operators in Vermont anticipated a difficult season and didn’t hire as many people as they would have in a normal year. As a result, White said, there have not been layoffs, but neither has the phone been ringing for people waiting to be hired.

“The ski industry is a huge part of the state’s economy,” White said. “We’re really hoping the weather starts to cooperate and more people can successfully comply with the travel regulations so we can get the numbers up. It’s been a brutal season.”

Contact Dan D’Ambrosio at 660-1841 or ddambrosio@freepressmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanDambrosioVT. This coverage is only possible with support from our readers.