Numbers released this week showed the extent of the decline that the snow-deficient winter of 2011-12 dealt to Vermontís ski industry. The Vermont Ski Areas Association said on Wednesday that skier and snowboarder visits were down by 10.5 percent from the previous year.
Yet the VSAA is noteworthy for the positive outlook it generally maintains about winter sports in Vermont, even during challenging years. And true to form, the decline in skier and snowboarder visits came accompanied by qualifiers that made the news not quite so dire.
For one thing, Vermont ski areas did better than ski areas elsewhere in the country. Nationally, skier and snowboarder visits were down by 16 percent.
For another thing, this yearís decline follows the best year since 2004-05. That means the 10.5 percent decline was down from a high peak in the number of visits. Based on a 10-year average, this yearís visits were down by only 5 percent.
Another bit of positive news came in the surprising increase in tourism-related tax revenues. The rooms and meals tax and the sales tax together were up by 2.5 percent from last winter, suggesting that tourists continued to come to Vermont over the winter even if weather conditions that were less than ideal dissuaded them sometimes from buying lift tickets.
Itís clear that the investment that Vermont ski areas have made in snowmaking technology has become all the more important in the new world of a changing climate and changeable weather. Vermontís ski areas are able to keep 75 percent of their terrain open through snowmaking even when nature has been stingy with its snow. Vermontís cross-country ski areas and the inns that serve them were hit harder by the lack of snow this year because they donít have a comparable snowmaking capability.
The decline in visits this year was unhappy news, but it did not endanger any of Vermontís ski areas, according to Parker Riehle, president of VSAA. Vermontís ski areas have become skilled marketers and have also expanded the diversity of their offerings. Jay Peak, with its now famous water park, is fast becoming a destination resort for the Northeast and much of Canada. Killingtonís new efforts to develop its long anticipated village ought to help Killington weather the coming climate crunch.
It would seem that the ski industry recognizes that the only thing predictable about the weather is its unpredictability. A year of record snowfall may be followed by a year with little snow.
What is going to save the ski industry is its flexibility, which is a lesson Vermontís ski industry seems to be learning.
- Most Popular
- Most Emailed
- MEDIA GALLERY