In recent years, Vermont’s major ski resorts have ramped up their offerings of activities and attractions, greatly bolstering their appeal as both winter-and-summer, day-and-vacation destinations.
They invested hundreds of millions in those offerings as well as over $100 million in mountain infrastructure, from snowmaking to lifts and lodges, with millions more spent on hotels and condominiums.
Winter activities were added for après-ski, nighttime, and non-ski options. They include: snowshoe tours, tubing, on-snow fat biking, mountain coasters, ice rinks, climbing walls, spas, theaters and indoor sports and fitness centers, along with snowcat and sleigh rides to mountain venues for gourmet dining. Fireworks, concerts and special events enhance those offerings.
The expansion of summer activities included: lift-served mountain biking, outdoor adventure centers, zip lines, canopy tours, obstacle challenges (Spartan races originated in Vermont), mountain bike competitions, concerts, kids camps, festivals and fall brew fests. In turn, they made resorts more attractive as wedding and conference venues.
In recent firsts for Vermont mountains, Bolton Valley installed a skateboard bowl with mini ramps in its Sports Center, and Jay Peak added synthetic turf fields.
In addition to evening out revenue streams and providing year-around employment to a greater number of employees, these expansions utilize costly infrastructure like lifts and lodges on a year-around basis, and help reduce the amount of borrowing required to bridge from winter to winter.
Four-season ‘hot beds’
Four ski resorts have made impressive gains in bids to become year-round businesses and to fill more rooms and beds beyond winter.
One of the keys to this success was to add activities and attractions that would make anyone visiting — whether to attend a wedding or to ski — want to return, said Adam White, director of communications for the Vermont Ski Areas Association.
Illustrating White’s point, Jay Peak spokesman JJ Tolland reports, “Four-season bookings are higher now than ever before.”
Jay has become a very successful mountain recreation and sports resort over the past decade. Weather-proofing the business was the motivation to add an indoor waterpark, ice arena, movie theater, conference, Nordic, and indoor adventure centers, among other improvements like new hotels and tram cars.
The other three seasons weren’t forgotten with the addition of a golf course and wedding chapel. Now hockey teams, wedding and conference attendees fill beds even in former slow months like May and November, and events abound, making the goal to weather-proof a sound business strategy. “To further bolster that strategy, we completed construction of two synthetic turf athletic fields last fall and already have lacrosse, soccer and rugby tournaments booked for this spring,” Tolland said.
Okemo transitioned to a busy year-round resort with the development of Jackson Gore Village. The inn, condos, convertible ice arena (summer tennis, basketball courts), sports and fitness center, summer adventure zone, outdoor concerts, zip line, wedding site, and golf course have all contributed to the resort’s increasing business, spokeswoman Bonnie MacPherson said.
“Adding summer activities was seen as a viable strategy because Vermont actually has more visitors in summer than winter,” MacPherson explained, noting that the ski business has also benefited from “alternative activities” like the indoor sports center and pools.
“The attractions and activities make Okemo an appealing destination,” she added, noting greater hotel occupancy as a result of people having more to do. The free Friday night summer concerts have proved a draw for people looking for a wedding venue, and last year’s Fall into Winter event was so popular they ran out of beer glasses, she added.
Killington began with summer chairlift rides and hiking in 1959, and built up summer with adventure camps, tennis school, gondola rides, golf course, and mountain biking. As host to summer theater, big-name musicians, and special events like horse shows, summer did well before leveling off in the late 1990s.
The resort changed that in 2015 with: the debut of the Snowshed Adventure Center, which offers an assortment of thrills; the addition of a music series and more special events; and a major multi-year mountain biking expansion. Since then, summer business has grown every year, “bringing more and new visitors to the area and giving them reasons to extend their vacation stays during the summer and fall, which benefits the entire Killington region,” commented President and General Manager Mike Solimano.
Stowe Mountain Resort is reaping results from a decade of investments — over $600 million in: ski infrastructure; golf course; and the village at Spruce Peak, which features ice rink, indoor adventure center, spa, theater, hotel and surrounding mountain cabins. “Summer and fall experiences on the mountain have become a more viable business at the resort. We offer the traditional lift rides and mountain access in addition to a Zip Tour, Treetop Adventure, and Summer Camp for kids,” Jeff Wise said of additional summer activities.
Success stories, more efforts
“Stratton has always been more than a ski area and more than a single-season destination,” said spokeswoman Myra Foster. She cited the Geoffrey Cornish-designed golf course (1964), the Arnold Palmer Golf Academy (1969), the 1980s’ additions of John Newcombe Tennis Center, Arts Festival, Volvo International Tennis Tournament, and base-area village, along with LPGA Classic, kids camps, big-name concerts, and events as highlights to continued growth.
“The mountain, Village, and resort infrastructure are a canvas on which skilled staff stage large-scale events such as Wanderlust (about 3,000 participants each June) and the OCR North American Championships, with athletes attending from several states and countries,” she said.
During fall foliage “guests find that lodging rates at Stratton are attractive, and the resort is very popular with bus tours, many of which draw international visitors.
“Areas of growth include destination weddings, with venues booked from May to the end of October. Friday and Sunday weddings are filling out the weekends, where a few years ago virtually every wedding was on a Saturday,” Foster stated.
Smugglers Notch Resort began summer offerings for families in 1974. Its outdoor pools, water slides, kids programs, and indoor facilities all contributed to the resort’s popularity. Since then, the addition of ArborTrek Canopy Adventures (zip line tour and treetop obstacle course), mountain biking options, and FunZone 2.0 (26,000 square feet of activities, café) have buttressed its stellar summer reputation.
Mount Snow sported the first outdoor heated pool in the East (1958), an indoor skating rink, and other amenities in the 1960s, the Original Golf School (1978), lift-served mountain biking (1984), and the nation’s first Mountain Biking School (1988). Today, “summer is growing every year, with weddings a major area of growth and resulting in creating three mountaintop outdoor wedding venues for this summer. The kids’ outdoor exploration day camps have also been growing and are popular with locals and second-home owners,” spokesman Jaime Storrs said.
Bromley Mountain began summer operations in 1976 with America’s first Alpine Slide. Since then, summer business has increased significantly, with an abundance of attractions, aerial adventure park, and events making it a busy daylong destination for summer activities.
At Sugarbush, the ratio of business is still “about 80-85 percent winter,” notes John Bleh. Efforts to increase summer business began about 10 years ago with the area working to expand event offerings. The biggest growth has been “in weddings and conferences,” and the “busiest summer month is August and foliage weekends,” Bleh said.
Areas with special niches like Mad River Glen have lesser degrees of summer aspirations. “The mission of our Co-op is to provide recreational access year-round, and that is why we promote hiking on the mountain. Outside of ski season, the busiest times for our restaurant, General Stark’s Pub, are July and August,” Marketing Director Eric Friedman said, noting the area does offer “Siptember Fest with brew samplings and chairlift rides to view the foliage.”