Vermont's Resorts And Skiers Grapple With The Season's Inconsistent Weather

Mar 2, 2018

It may be too soon to say how this year’s ski season will ultimately turn out, but for many resorts and related businesses, the weather so far has been a frustrating roller coaster.

Boston residents Joe Rhodes and Caitlin Quinn weren’t letting it bother them though. They were skiing with friends at Killington and joked that you never know what you’ll get weather-wise in New England.

“It’s always fun, but there’s been some good power days — a couple weeks ago, we had a great powder day — but then you've got days like today, where it's kind of icy and choppy,” said Rhodes.

“I think it’s been great,” added Quinn. “We were at Attitash Bear Peak in New Hampshire a couple weekends ago and it was really great there. They’d gotten ... a little bit of snow before we went. And today we’ve got our whole group of friends here, so even if conditions aren’t, you know, prime, we’re still having a great time.”

Killington president Mike Solimano said the ski industry is a lot like farming; weather can change the best-laid plans. And this year’s conditions, he said, have definitely been all over the map.

“We had a really great start. Obviously, we did the World Cup and that was a big success," he said. "We actually had great skiing and some good natural snowfall in December, and we actually had probably some of the best skiing we've had at Christmas in a long time.”

Except for that arctic blast that came in and stayed for what felt like weeks.

"Yeah, for the five busiest days of the Christmas period, we were substantially below zero, which was really tough." — Mike Solimano, Killington president

“Yeah, for the five busiest days of the Christmas period, we were substantially below zero, which was really tough,” Solimano said.

Then there were those rainy, 60-degree days, said Patty McGrath, rolling her eyes. She and her husband own the Inn at Long Trail in Killington, and she said the ups and downs made planning difficult for a lot of businesses on the mountain. "And yes, our numbers are down a bit," she said.

“I think most people would say the same: It’s not an awful year, but it’s not a good year," McGrath said describing the current ski season. “Every time it gets momentum, that momentum is stalled.” 

"It's not an awful year, but it's not a good year," says Patty McGrath of this year's ski season. McGrath owns an inn in Killington and says roller-coaster weather has made this a less than stellar winter.
Credit Nina Keck / VPR

Solimano said skier visits to Killington are down as well, about 15 percent from last year.  

But he says they’re still up 20 percent from the year before — a weird on-again, off-again pattern that he said has held true for the last eight to 10 years.

“The even years have been tough. 2017 was good and 2016 was not good, so we make this joke: 'It’s an even year, so we’ll wait 'til next year 'til we can get back to an odd year,'” Solimano said, smiling.

But next year, Solimano said skiers will notice some big upgrades: Killington is investing $16 million to add a brand-new, six-person enclosed and heated chair lift, as well as relocate another chairlift and completely replace all the cabins on their K-1 gondola.

Killington says it will invest $16 million dollars this coming year in trail work and new lifts, included replacing all the cars on its K-1 gondola.
Credit Nina Keck / VPR

Solimano said they’ll also be adding a lot more bridges and tunnels to improve traffic flow on their trails.

“When Pres Smith started Killington, one of his goals was to have beginner skiers go to every peak," explained Solimano. "We have six peaks at Killington and he wanted every beginner to feel like they conquered the mountain.”

But that means a lot of trails traversing the mountain. And Solimano said easier runs that cross more advanced ones cause a lot of headaches, so the new trail work should ease a lot of that congestion.

"It's not an awful year, but it's not a good year. Every time it gets momentum, that momentum is stalled." — Patty McGrath, co-owner of the Inn at Long Trail in Killington

Infrastructure investments seem to be paying off for many resorts. Chloe Elliott, communications manager of Ski Vermont, says during the cold snap, resorts that had spas, water parks and other indoor amenities did better.

Jamie Storrs, a spokesperson at Mount Snow, says the $30 million they’ve invested in snowmaking the past three years definitely saved them this season.

“Two days before Martin Luther King weekend, which is one of our busiest weekends of the season, it actually rained an inch and a half in our base area, which would normally put a damper on the entire weekend,” said Storrs. “But we were able to get out and fire up and resurface the majority of our trails, which really saved the weekend for everybody that had plans to come out here.”

Storrs and others in the industry point out March is often the snowiest month in Vermont, and they’ve all got their fingers crossed.