Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff File Photo A crowd of skiers and snowboarders descends Ripcord at Sugarbush Resort in Warren looking for fresh track after an overnight storm in early March.
Less snowfall and challenging weather conditions translated into nearly 11 percent fewer skier visits this season, the Vermont Ski Areas Association reported Wednesday at its annual meeting held at Jay Peak Resort.
The state’s 18 ski resorts 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.
Although Vermont’s numbers were disappointing, the state fared far better than other ski states. Nationally, skier visits were off 16 percent this season.
“It definitely was a stronger outcome than many expected,” VSAA President Parker Riehle said during a phone interview. “And I would say owing virtually entirely to Vermont’s snow-making capacity, which is so widespread and provided such an incredibly critical buffer to Mother Nature’s low snowfall totals this year.”
Riehle said the state’s 75 percent snow-making capacity enabled resorts to keep a significant amount of terrain open.
He said the state’s 30 cross-country areas had a rougher season since only a few have the capacity to make snow and even then on limited terrain.
“The story of season again is another year of resiliency of the Vermont ski industry,” Riehle said. “We were glad to kind of put this season behind us and we’re looking forward to the 2012-13 season, which we know will be better.”
Based on a 10-year average, he said skier visits were down 5 percent this season.
Despite adverse weather conditions, with temperatures that climbed into the 70s in March, the VSAA said that tourism-related tax revenue during the winter were stronger than expected.
Riehle said rooms and meals, and sales tax revenue were up a combined 2.5 percent over the previous winter.
Although the downhill ski resorts struggled this season, Riehle said he knows of no resorts in dire financial trouble.
At the annual meeting, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott gave the opening remarks with National Ski Areas Association President Michael Berry making the keynote address.
The VSAA presented Olympic gold medalist Kelly Clark with its Industry Achievement Award while Vermont Department of Tourism & Marketing Commissioner Megan Smith received the Friend of the Industry Award.
The Career Employee Awards were presented to three longtime ski area employees – Peter Hand, Dave Williamson and Bruce Maxham. Combined, they have more than 120 years of service.
In addition, the following ski areas were honored for environmental excellence, marketing, safety programs and industry achievements:
Sugarbush - Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award with VHB Inc. for the restoration of Rice Brook to high water quality conditions.
Burke — National Ski Areas Association Sustainable Slopes Grant Award for its composting program and wind turbine installation.
Jay Peak — NSAA Marketing Award for Best Direct Marketing Program.
Burke — NSAA Marketing Award for Best Traditional Media.
Killington — NSAA Safety Award for Best Terrain Park Safety Program.
Killington — Finalist for the NSAA Conversion Cup Award for efforts in converting beginners into lifelong skiers.
Stratton — U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association Silver Award for exemplary event organization of the U.S. Freestyle Championships.
Stowe — Educational Excellence Award to Dave Merriam.
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