Ski season begins in earnest
By Bruce Edwards
STAFF WRITER | December 23,2012
Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo
Ski patroller Luke Ingram of West Bolton enjoys snowy conditions while working at Bolton Valley Resort last week.
From Jay Peak in the north to Mount Snow in the south, the state’s ski areas are ready for the first of three big holidays that go a long way toward determin-ing the success of the ski season.
By Christmas Day, all but four of Vermont’s 18 ski areas are expected to welcome skiers for the start of the holiday, according to the Vermont Ski Areas Association.
Despite the lack of snowfall and intermittent rainy days this season, Vermont resorts have 300 trails, or a quarter of the total terrain open, twice as much as a year ago, said VSAA President Parker Riehle.
That’s due almost entirely to snowmaking.
“I know early on in the season (snowmaking) made it our strongest opening since 2008, which is very encouraging,” Riehle said.
For the Christmas-New Year holiday, he said resort lodgings are reporting overnight bookings exceeding 90 percent of capacity, which is in keeping with past years.
The fact that Christmas and New Year’s Day fall on a weekday this year is an added boost, Riehle said, because they’re sandwiched between weekends, allowing “families and folks with job obligations to carve out good blocks of time to get on up here.”
Riehle does have a concern about the “backyard effect” because of the lack of snow in the New York, Boston and Philadelphia metro areas, from which Vermont resorts draw many skiers.
When there is no snow down-country, he said, there’s a psychological barrier to getting into a mindset to ski — even when Vermont’s trails are covered with snow.
Through both conventional media and social media, Riehle said, word has spread that the state’s resorts have substantial snowmaking capability that more than makes up for the lack of natural snow.
The ski industry is hoping for a rebound from last year’s disappointing season, when warm weather brought an early end to the season for many resorts in the Northeast.
Vermont’s ski areas recorded 3,903,171 skier and snowboarder visits during the 2011-12 season, down 10.5 percent from the 4,365,906 visits the previous season, which was the best season since 2004-05. Nationwide, skier visits were down 16 percent last season.
Stowe Mountain Resort reported that bookings for the coming holiday are “solid.” The resort has received up to a foot of snow in the last week or so. Combined with snowmaking operations, Stowe has twice the number of trails open compared to last year at this time.
Okemo Mountain Resort in Ludlow is also reporting strong bookings over the holiday at its inn and condominiums.
“Reservations for the holiday week are steady, with phone calls increasing as the word of snow on the ground becomes known to many skiers and riders,” Okemo spokeswoman Bonnie MacPherson said in an email.
She said reservations for private skiing and riding lessons are running about even with last season.
Holiday reservations at Killington Resort are on a pace with a year ago.
“We’ve put out a lot of lodging deals, that are discounted lodging deals, so people would book and plan to come early,” Killington spokeswoman Sarah Thorson said.
For example, she said, the resort was offering a “stay free, ski free” lodging package between Dec. 21-25. For a stay of four nights or longer, Thorson said guests receive one free night of lodging on Christmas Day and a free lift ticket.
Late last week, Killington had 46 of 140 trails and 10 of 22 lifts open.
Sister resort Pico Mountain was making snow with three trails and two lifts open.
Although parts of the state were hit with rain Friday, temperatures were expected to drop into the 20s, allowing resorts to again ramp up snowmaking operations.
At Mount Snow, the only days not close to being sold out are Christmas Day and the two following days.
Like Killington, Mount Snow is offering a lift-and-lodging special. offering three nights and three days of skiing for the price of two. The West Dover resort expected to have 21 trails open by the start of the week.
Riehle said the Christmas-New Year holiday can account for as much as 15 to 20 percent of a ski area’s annual business.
“Obviously, that could be on the stronger side,” Riehle said. “Again, given that it’s falling midweek, that really does make a difference for the resorts.”
The President’s Week holiday in February is the biggest of the three ski holidays, accounting for as much as 30 percent of business.
“There is some lingering concern over some of the President’s Week holidays down-country being curtailed this year because of the Hurricane (Sandy) effects in the fall,” he said.
The Martin Luther King weekend in January is the smallest of the three ski holidays.
Because of the lack of snowfall, only five of Vermont’s 29 cross-country areas were open as of Friday: Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Stowe Mountain Resort in Stowe, Ole’s Cross Country Center in Warren, Blueberry Lake X-C in Warren and Craftsbury Outdoor Center in Craftsbury.