By Evan Johnson
Just two weeks after the longest season in the East called it quits, the Vermont Ski Areas Association met in Killington on Thursday, June 15 to celebrate a season of highlights that included the return of World Cup ski racing to Killington Resort and multiple snowstorms that slammed the Green Mountains and brought visitors to the state to enjoy winter.
Vermont’s 19 alpine ski areas saw 3.9 million skier visits this past winter — an increase of 21 percent after low snowfall last year. Ski Vermont president Parker Riehle said this number was more accurate than in past years thanks to improved technology that tracks use of ski passes and tickets. Due to the high snowfalls from winter storms Pluto and Stella, Ski Vermont sent out a record 21 “powder alerts” to their email subscribers.
There were some new faces in the audience due to acquisitions announced earlier this year. Next to Killington’s general manager Mike Solimano sat Bobby Murphy, the newest general manager of Stowe Mountain Resort. Murphy’s arrival comes as Vail Resorts announced its plans to purchase the resort in February. The deal is the Colorado ski resort giant’s first purchase of a resort in Vermont as well as the East. In April, news broke that Aspen Skiing Co., also from Colorado, would purchase Stratton Mountain’s parent company, Intrawest. Also in attendance was Ralph DesLauriers, who, after starting Bolton Valley with his father in 1966, reacquired the property this spring.
While experiencing good traffic and ample snow at resorts, the association recorded other highlights from the hill in Montpelier. This year, following a request by Governor Phil Scott for level funding of all departments, the VSAA successfully lobbied against cuts in its partnership grant with the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing. The VSAA also lobbied the House Ways & Means Committee to preserve an exemption from an education property tax on lifts and snowmaking equipment in order to be treated the same as the machinery and equipment of other businesses around the state. An additional occupancy fee proposal was killed in the Senate Appropriations Committee that would have imposed a $2 per night fee on every room reserved in the state.
Michael Berry, after 25 years at the National Ski Areas Association, plans to retire from his role as president at the end of the year. Ski Vermont recognized Berry with an achievement award.
In remarks made before the meeting broke for lunch and then golf, Berry described some of the challenges facing the ski business, including finding employees, combatting climate change, and transforming first-time skiers and riders into lifelong advocates of the sport. Berry described the need to create products that would appeal to young and tech-savvy audiences in metropolitan areas that may have skied once.
“It’s the experience that you create that will draw people to the sport, allowing them to fall in love with the sport forever,” he said. “Keep in mind, what we sell is magic.”