(NECN: Jack Thurston, Stowe, Vt.) - At a bill-signing ceremony in Stowe, Vt. Thursday, Gov. Peter Shumlin's signature made it law: skiing and snowboarding are now the state's official winter sports. "Vermont is the ski state," said Gov. Shumlin, D-Vt.
High school sophomores from Swanton, Vt. have been pushing for the designation since they were in fifth grade. "We obviously wanted it to pass a lot sooner than it did," said Alex Benckert, 15. "It was just a great experience. We learned how the legislature works and how to get stuff done."
The civics-minded students realized Vermont had an official state bird in the hermit thrush, and an official state flower in the red clover. They wanted lawmakers to recognize Vermont's long history with downhill thrills; from the first rope tow, to the development of a ski patrol, and installation of one of the earliest lifts in the country.
It's also widely accepted that Vermont is the birthplace of snowboarding, with Jake Burton Carpenter's Burton snowboards. "I think on a global basis, the state has a certain cache when you talk about winter sports, and snowboarding in particular," Burton Carpenter said. "We're very proud of that and psyched to be able to use it, which not many companies can."
Burton Carpenter predicted this official designation will only build Vermont’s reputation for outdoor sports excellence.
Even before the official recognition in Vermont, snow-lovers were spending more than $750-million a year at Vermont inns, restaurants, and shops. The state brags it's the top spot in the east, behind only Colorado and California. But in this unusually warm winter in the northeast, the conditions have not been ideal. "People are coming and they're spending a day or half-day skiing and riding, but not necessarily committing to the whole weekend," said Steve Cook, Vermont's deputy tourism commissioner.
Cook noted that while early analysis showed slight declines in reservations at hotels, some of that lost state revenue may be made up with what appears to be strong showings from shops and restaurants.
Last year, Vermont resorts tallied about 4.4-million skier and boarder visits. It was a banner year. This year, with Mother Nature making natural snowfall hard to come by, aggressive snowmaking is propping up the season. Tourism officials expect the figure to come in at about 4-million skier and boarder visits.
The industry hopes a late storm will come, making for a strong finish to the season. Over the Presidents' Day weekend, resorts reported large and enthusiastic crowds. The Easter holiday weekend may provide a boost, too. Marketers are getting the word out that there's still snow in the mountains, despite the mild temperatures. "It's definitely not too little too late," said Parker Riehle, the president of the Vt. Ski Areas Association. "There's always time and room to close those gaps on those numbers that were down from the early part of the season."
After decades of growth and expansion, several destinations have even more big projects planned to keep the crowds coming back for more of this small state's now-official winter sports.
Colorado already listed the sports as its official cold weather activities. Lawmakers in Utah recently passed legislation naming skiing and snowboarding that state's official winter sports, too. Gov. Shumlin joked that he beat Utah's governor to the punch in signing Vermont's bill into law.