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Winter Sports Enthusiasts Hope For A Turnaround As Cold Weather Sets In

File photo of snow
WAMC/Pat Bradley
File photo of snow

Winter appears to finally be settling in as cold temperatures and snow finally carpets the region. With a possible Nor’easter this weekend anticipation is growing that the last half of the season will be better for winter sports enthusiasts.
Last November an early snowfall lifted spirits and anticipation for a long and prosperous season in the Northeast.  But that melted along with the snow as temperatures soared and December hit record temperatures.  The Christmas weekend, usually a prime holiday for ski resorts, saw barren slopes as record warmth hit New York and New England.

I Ski New York President Scott Brandi says the current cold is allowing ski areas to operate snow guns and get the resorts’ slopes open.  “When you miss Christmas, and we pretty much missed Christmas statewide, you know you can’t make snow when it’s 48 degrees out, basically you need to hit on all cylinders the rest of the season just from a business model standpoint. So you need to get your major holidays that are remaining.  MLK the weekend that just passed and of course President’s week coming up and for the most part you need to have solid weekends, and hopefully good spring skiing.  So for the rest of the way we have to hit on all cylinders, full speed ahead and hopefully have good weather right on through to spring skiing and then we’ll look back and probably say wow tough start, but decent season.”

In Vermont, Okemo Mountain Resort Director of Public Relations Bonnie McPherson says it’s been a challenging start to the season.   “We’ve had about a foot and a half total of natural snow so far this year. You know the start of the season was tough.  The Christmas week vacation was difficult and we saw a lot of people cancelling or changing their plans.  It’s something that happens from year to year.  We’re a little like farmers in that we rely so heavily on the weather. The real challenge for us has just been the temperatures and having those snowmaking temperatures come around. Thankfully it’s turned around and winter is definitely here and we’re going to move forward and hope to be open 100 percent in the coming weeks.”

The warm winter has disrupted other sports, including snowmobiling and ice fishing.  There is open water in lakes and bays that have usually frozen by early January. Trails that need a couple feet of snowpack for safe snowmobile riding may only have a glaze of snow.

Bronzeback Guide Service is an ice fishing charter service on Lake Champlain, Lake Memphremagog and the Waterbury reservoir.  Owner Captain Gilly Gagner says while some bays have significant ice, safety must be the primary concern for anglers.   “With the warming trend a lot of southern New England folks from Massachusetts, Connecticut they depend on our colder climate to do ice fishing.  And if they’re not coming I mean your motels your small eateries, everything suffers. It’s not just the ski areas, fishing has a major impact on Vermont’s economy also.  Things are looking up.  This week’s going to be cold.  Next week looks like it’s going be not too much warmer, but a little bit cold, so things are looking up.  But it’s going to be a short season from what I can see.”

Snowmobiling is the second largest winter sport in Vermont,  bringing in between $500 and $550 million annually.
Vermont Association of Snow Travelers Executive Director Cindy Locke says the season started slow with most snow falling in the Northeast Kingdom or along the Green Mountain range. She reports that about a quarter of VAST’s trail system is now open.  “The only areas that are really seeing the snowmobiling at this point are anywhere where there’s high elevation or the Northeast Kingdom. No matter where you ride in the state, the rural areas rely on snowmobile traffic to dine and to gas up or to stay at little bed and breakfasts or motels or resorts.  So they really want to see us open more trails and get people to those areas.”

Last year Ski Vermont reported a record-breaking 4.6 million skier and rider visits to resorts.  

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