Tue, Mar 20, 2012 07:50 AM
Long drives to Vermont to ski were common when I lived in
Connecticut and later New Jersey. We often left home with a green
yard heading toward the Green Mountains.
But neither yard nor drive mattered. We were skiers.
As a teacher and ski club advisor at Scotch Plains Fanwood H.S.
(NJ), I not only took trips with my husband to our Vermont vacation
home, I also hired a coach and took 44 teenagers on ski trips. In
those days, we planned and went.
Sometimes the kids would say, "Mrs. Lorentz, we're on the Thruway
now and there's still no snow, are you sure we're going to
Then we would hit the Glens Falls area and see West Mountain lit
up on the west side of the highway. I was afraid they would tilt
the bus over as they all peered out the left-side windows. The
excitement at seeing those snow-covered trails grew all the way to
Recently, I drove from our Vermont home of 34 years to Pico and
realized that there was no snow along the way, even as I got fairly
close to the resort. And I recalled those trips and how the kids
and I had to become believers.
Skiing is Believing
Now, I rarely wonder if there is skiing because living at an
elevation of 2200 feet, there is usually snow in my yard and most
ski areas have higher elevations plus state of the art snowmaking
and grooming. Not exactly like the 1960s and 1970s.
This year, my experience on the slopes has actually been better
than in previous years when there was more snow. That's because I
like having a trail to myself - apparently, lacking snow in their
backyards, lots of people just didn't show up this season. So many
days Pico felt like a private playground!
Last week, my son and his wife had their annual ski date with
another couple at Killington. The 18-20 inches of snow received
March 1 and 2 bode well. But then I saw the weather forecast. I was
taking care of their son and wanted to get him to First Tracks on a
nice day, so I made his reservation for Monday instead. The
forecast had warned mixed precip for Saturday, and I felt so sorry
for the two couples.
Guess what? The forecast was wrong.
They had "the best day, warm, sunshiny, no lift lines, and all
that new groomed soft snow with no crowds. It was phenomenal," my
no-nonsense daughter-in-law said.
Seems like there were many who, like me, didn't go because we had
a choice and chose what we thought would be a "better weather"
Of Backyards and Weather
Sunday, the people turned out. Bonnie MacPherson, director of
public relations at Okemo Mountain, noted that although the lodging
was almost fully booked for the weekend, Saturday began with a
touch of drizzle that soon gave way to glorious sunshine and a
phenomenal day for the lighter crowd that went out. "Sunday they
all showed up," she noted.
Rob Megnin, director of marketing and sales for Killington and
Pico, noted a similar phenomenon. And that is part of the dilemma
that resorts have faced this winter.
Despite the major dump that brought people to the areas, the
forecast of precipitation put off their slope time to a day of
Weather forecasts go along with the no-snow-in-my-backyard
syndrome. When Boston and NYC are devoid of snow, there are skiers
who simply don't go north, Megnin noted. If backyards are not
white, fewer people are inspired to take a trip. Skiers will
respond to reports of Vermont dumps, as happened March 1 and 2, but
even then a forecast can keep many from going out, which baffles
the resorts - and frustrates skiers who miss what turned out to be
"the perfect day."
What is a skier to do?
Some have the luxury of following the powder and drive in a storm
to get the freshies. Others watch the weather and plan trips for
nice days. Still others, the diehards (or those who opperate best
planning ahead), do as we did in days of old, they just plan and
Ironically, I, like those who so enjoyed the best Saturday of the
season on March 3, owe my thanks to those fair-weather skiers who
have left the trails devoid of crowds this year. We have had a most
But then I got to thinking, what effect is the cause of my
happiness having on the ski resorts?
Skier visits are down industry-wide. That includes Killington and
Okemo, which make a ton of snow and have received many little snows
as well as the major March 1-2 dump, which has made the last two
weeks of skiing the best of the season.
MacPherson and Megnin both acknowledged that lift ticket revenues
do play a role in capital improvements as the capital intensive
businesses face ever escalating costs for insurance, fuel and labor
to say nothing of buildings and lifts. As mega players, Okemo and
Killington have kept the snowmaking going and provided coverage
which allows them to recover after warm temperatures or rain.
MacPherson noted that hardcore skiers found good conditions and
enjoyed a great year. The day skier visits were off among the
occasional skiers and those who typically come out midweek -
evidence of the 'backyard syndrome' at work.
Megnin says that since the snow started in March, Killington was
close to or exceeded budget for its ensuing skier-visit days. He
wonders where the people are when the skiing has been good all
Part of the answer, he fears, lies in skiers needing to see that
blanket of white snow outside.
Good Weather News
Yes, this season has been one weird wacky winter
But here is some good news.
What is normal for Vermont is for the weather to vary from year to
year and month to month. The Vermont Weather Book by David M.
Ludlum makes that abundantly clear. Senior Meteorologist Jeremy
Davis who works for Weather Routing Inc. and is Look TV's On-Air
Meteorologist (Channel 8 in Glens Falls region) agrees saying,
"weird weather happens."
He said this year has seen a dearth of major snowstorms while
experiencing unseasonably warm spells in traditionally cold
But he also notes that he did a 60-year study of temperatures and
precipitation for the Glens Falls, NY, area and found that the
average temperature was 0.1 degree cooler than prior years and
average snowfall was up about three inches.
"Skiing is not going away. It's not true that every year we will
get less and less snow and down to nothing," he stated.
"It is very rare to see two extreme years like last year (high
snow and cool temps) and this year (low snow and high temps) back
to back. The last time that occurred was the 1994-95 season (poor
year) and 1995-96 (great year)," he noted. So, hopefully, this
year's swing won't happen again for the next 10 to 15 years.
Variations are normal and extremes happen. Remember, at the end of
March 1998 temperatures went from winter to 85 degrees in Vermont
and Portland ME posted 89 degrees, its highest temp of the
He also noted that the advances in snowmaking technology mean that
ski resorts will continue to make snow more efficiently at
Deals Now and for Next Year
Despite my love for trails to myself, I would prefer to have
someone to ride the lift with midweek and, of course, for all the
ski areas to continue to exist. So skiers, please tell your
down-country friends that we do have snow and skiing, and we would
be happy to share it with them.
Also, areas are offering great deals on spring tickets like
Killington's 4-play pass (any 4 days for $199) or the season
passholder who can bring one or two skiers who pay $49 each for a
ticket. Pico's 4-Play is $99.
Okemo has several deals as well, like Sunday 8 a.m. to 1:30 for
$24-$35 depending on age, or a 12:30 to 4 p.m. ticket, $29 for all
Some of the best deals can be found now, but do require some
Most of all, don't let this season's extreme weather confuse you -
get next year's season pass now while the best prices are offered.
The deals for kids and seniors are especially sweet.
When you think of all the multi-millions invested in these
resorts, you really do get a bang for your lift ticket buck! Add
the inflation factor, and it is cheaper to ski today than in the
1960s and 1970s! And with snowmaking and grooming, to say nothing
of express quads, it's also a heck of a lot better!