Was it a record ski season for Vermont?
“It was our best season ever,” said Win Smith owner of Sugarbush Resort. “It was our longest season ever,” said Matt Lillard of Mad River Glen.
Just a week ago on June 2, Killington shut down its lifts after a 211-day season. Jay Peak ran its lifts into May and saw 423 inches of snow this year. And around the state, as the numbers rolled in, they confirmed everything we already knew: the 2018-19 season will go down in the history books.
The ski season kicked off with a bang on October 19 at Killington Mountain Resort—the first ski area in the East to get lifts turning. Mount Snow was soon to follow, with lifts cranking by Halloween weekend—its earliest opening in history. Stowe, Okemo and Sugarbush all opened November 16. As ski areas cruised into Thanksgiving, the trees were skiing well before winter even began.
With 32.9 inches of snowfall in lakeside Burlington alone, November 2018 was easily the snowiest November on record for the state, according to data from the National Weather Service. On November 29, the snow stake on Mount Mansfield was up to 46 inches—the most in recorded history. By that time, Stowe had 200 acres of terrain open to skiing and riding. Below average temperatures made for blower powder days, early season backcountry turns and a lot of build up going into the holidays. At the end of March, 92 percent of Vermont’s ski terrain was still open.
In the Mad River Valley, Sugarbush skiers turned out in force on Cinco de Mayo for live music and skiing in Hawaiian shirts and bathing suits. We even spotted a charcoal grill at the top of Super Bravo on May 5. By the end of the season, Mad River Glen would rack up its longest and latest season in history: 136 days. General manager Matt Lillard noted, “If we had not closed midweek four days, we would have made it to 140.”
Just how good was business for the ski areas in Vermont? At the annual Vermont Ski Areas Association annual meeting held at Jay Peak on June 6, executive director Molly Mahar released the numbers. “I’m happy to report we cracked the 4 million skier visits number this season: with 4,178,533 skier/rider visits. Cross country skiing saw 332,000 cross country days and a 118-day season.”
Bolton Valley had a banner year for its new backcountry touring program and Nordic center. “We saw a 70 percent increase in our Nordic and backcountry visits,” said Bolton Valley’s Lindsay DesLauriers. Bolton Valley made a big push this year in developing and marketing its backcountry skiing and touring and it appeared to pay off.
The numbers Mahar cited translated into record good years for individual ski areas too. “We were up 10 percent over last year in overall ticket sales and up 27 percent in day tickets,” said Win Smith. Mike Solimano, CEO, said Killington also saw a record year, with the World Cup bringing more than 37,000 spectators to Killington over Thanksgiving weekend. In early June, the FIS announced that Killington will be hosting the women’s slalom and giant slalom World Cup through 2020.
Nationally, the ski industry had a good year. National skier visits came in at more than 59 million, the National Ski Areas Association reported on April 30, marking an 11% increase over the 2017-2018 season, when national skier visits came in at 53.3 million. That may have had something to do with the fact that snowfall this year was up 31% nationwide over last season, according to the NSAA. Nationwide, the 2018-2019 season was the 4th best season for skier visits since the organization began recording in 1978-1979.
One of the highlights of the VSAA annual meeting is the Industry Achievement awards, which went to three industry legends who are retiring this seas: Eric Friedman, the iconic marketing director at Mad River Glen for 24 years, Rob Megnin, the long-time director of marketing for Killington and to Tracy Taylor, another Killington stalwart who worked in many roles, including as the base area operations manager.
Featured Photo Caption: Sugarbush hall of fame-er Darian Boyle finds champagne powder so deep, you need a snorkel to navigate through it. Photo by John Atkinson.