Yes, the lift lines seemed long last winter. But it was hard to know if that was because lifts were loading fewer people and lines were spaced for Covid or if it truly was more crowded. Now, the numbers are out. Nationwide, the 2020/21 ski season saw 59 million skier visits – the fifth highest season on record.
However, in Vermont which imposed strict quarantine guidelines, didn’t see that. Nearly 75 percent of Vermont’s ski area visits come from out of state or Canada and the border was close. The Vermont Ski Areas Association estimates that paid skier visits dropped by 40% and food and beverage sales were hit the hardest, with 60% and 70% decreases. Overall, this contributed to over a $100 million loss for the industry.
Yet the strict guidelines – the very thing that skiers and riders from other states complained about – also led to Vermont having one of the lowest rates of infection in the country. As of mid-June, Vermont had seen only 256 deaths from Covid-19 and fewer than 25,000 cases. “We said from the very start, and in the face of criticism, that our vaccine strategy would prove to be the most effective in the nation,” said Governor Scott in a mid-June briefing when he announced that Vermont would be lifting all restrictions and the state of emergency was over. “Again, not only do we lead the United States, but Vermont is now a global leader in vaccinations to defeat COVID-19.” Vermont saw a population growth of 2.8%, over the last decade according to the 2020 census —not a huge gain but an unexpected one.
And when the Vermont Center for Geographic Information analyzed property transfers involving out-of-state buyers, they found that more than 1,000 people had moved to Vermont between 2017 and 2020 and the vast majority to, you guessed it, ski towns. Burlington, Vermont’s largest city was ranked 14th. Not surprisingly ski towns where Epic or Ikon passes were prevalent fared the best with Dover (home to Mount Snow) drawing in 230 new sales and Stowe, 176. Along with that came an influx of new kids in the school systems, new shops and home prices have started to skyrocket. The amount of money spent on new homes increased by nearly 80%, going from $799 million in 2019 to $1.43 billion in 2020.
So, what does this mean for the summer? And next winter? “One thing is for certain: there is a huge pent-up demand for travel,” says Trevor Crist who founded Inntopia, the Stowe-based booking and marketing company that handles reservations for resorts worldwide. “’Revenge travel looks like it is going to fuel a very strong summer. Number of actual bookings since April 1st haven’t yet gotten back to where they were two years ago – it’s still off by nearly 30%—but revenues are already exceeding two years ago by 10%.
That’s driven by two things – people are booking longer trips, and lodging properties are charging higher rates due to anticipated increases in demand. We expect that Vermont, like a lot of other vacation destinations, will have a record summer for lodging this year as a result,” he says. And as for next winter? With Vail Resorts dropping its season pass prices by 20 percent, book early if you are planning a vacation and don’t expect those Epic towns to empty out any time soon. —Lisa Lynn
Opening photo courtesy Stowe Area Association