• Weather forces ski resorts to make an early exit
     | March 28,2012

    Already facing a challenging season from a lack of snow, Vermont’s ski resorts have been hit with a double whammy — last week’s meltdown from weather that was more like July than mid-March.

    It left Vermont with only four ski resorts still open this week: Killington, Jay Peak, Stowe and Sugarbush.

    It means the state will fall short of last season’s 4.36 million skier visits, the best season since 2004-2005.

    It’s the earliest closing of so many of the state’s resorts in many years, said Parker Riehle, president of the Vermont Ski Areas Association.

    “It is the earliest certainly since I’ve been with the VSAA since ’98,” Riehle said.

    A year after Vermont had more snowfall than it knew what to do with, this season was nearly the polar opposite, Riehle said. He said the capacity of the state’s ski areas to make snow usually more than compensates for the lack of natural snow.

    But two week’s of unseasonably warm weather was too much for most resorts to handle.

    “It was just too much for the snow pack to withstand and we had a pretty good snow pack, mostly of course from the snowmaking that the resorts have,” Riehle said, adding that statewide the ski areas have a total of 75 percent snowmaking coverage.

    At Okemo Mountain Resort in Ludlow, it’s the earliest closing since at least 1994, when the resort started keeping computer records, Okemo spokeswoman Bonnie MacPherson said.

    She said the resort was shooting to stay open until Easter until last week’s hot spell.

    “We had always made it till April, otherwise,” MacPherson said.

    Western ski resorts are having an off season as well.

    Through Feb. 29, Colorado ski resorts reported a 7.4 percent decrease in skier/snowboarder visits compared to the same period last year.

    With some recent snowfall, California resorts are hoping to recover lost ground from earlier in the season, said Troy Hawks of the National Ski Areas Association

    But Hawks also said when the numbers are tallied, skier visits nationally won’t match the 2010-2011 season.

    “I’d say at this point though, most industry experts agree, that our overall visitation numbers will be down from last year’s record-setting 60.5 million,” he said in an email. “Just how much we’ll be down remains to be seen.”

    The four Vermont resorts that remain open had only a fraction of their trails open Tuesday. According to the VSAA website, Jay Peak had 19 of 76 trails open, Stowe, 22 of 116 trails, Sugarbush, two of 111 trails; Killington, four of 140 trails.

    Riehle said Stowe Resort plans an April 1 closing while Jay Peak will remain open until April 8. No closing dates have been announced for Sugarbush or Killington.

    Killington spokeswoman Sara Thorson said the resort hopes to keep its Superstar trail open through April “as long as Mother Nature allows.”

    Five other resorts in New England are open: Loon Mountain and Waterville Valley in New Hampshire and Sunday River, Sugarloaf and Saddleback in Maine.

    bruce.edwards@ rutlandherald.com

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