The skiing and riding season that is critical to Vermont’s economy is well underway, and gearing up for one of its busiest stretches: the week between Christmas and New Year’s.
It has meant contending with challenges, though, namely from swings in the weather and from the omicron variant during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Skiers and riders at Stratton Mountain in Southern Vermont were enjoying the start of Stratton’s 60th season on snow this week, after a welcome reversal from earlier in the month when temperatures were well above freezing and it was raining.
“December turned quick,” noted Andrew Kimiecik, a Stratton Mountain spokesman.
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The return to cold allowed snowguns across this winter sports-dependent state to get cranking, aided, of course, by natural snow in time for the holiday vacation week.
“Snowmakers and groomers have been out almost nightly,” Kimiecik said in an interview this week with NECN & NBC10 Boston.
The holiday week can mean 15 to 20 percent of annual revenues for destinations, according to Molly Mahar, the president of the trade group Ski Vermont.
“We’ll definitely see trail counts jumping around the state,” Mahar said, pointing to the more favorable weather conditions now in place.
Ski Vermont pointed out last year’s COVID-19 travel restrictions, capacity limits, and mandatory quarantines are history, but emphasized pandemic-era practices like online ticketing and outdoor warming areas should be sticking around.
With the omicron variant now driving renewed COVID case growth, resorts do want skiers and riders to use common sense and stay home if they’re not feeling well, as well as bring masks for use in indoors spaces — including on shuttles and in some enclosed lifts.
Outdoors, masks are not required, Ski Vermont notes on this website, which also links users to COVID safety policies of resorts across the state.
“There’s a lot of pent up demand for Vermont,” Mahar said of changes over the past year in travel policies. “Many people, because of the interstate travel requirements last year couldn’t visit Vermont. And a lot of people are just really excited to come back.”
“We all have a role to play in reducing the strain on our hospitals,” Vermont Commerce Secretary Lindsay Kurrle said earlier this week at a briefing with members of the administration of Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont.
Kurrle reminded customers and employers, including resorts, that vaccines and boosters make operations safer and much more normal than a year ago.
For that reason, the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development is encouraging public-facing businesses to consider proof of vaccination or negative test results, as many bars and restaurants already have.
“Call ahead to learn the policy and carry your vaccination card with you,” Kurrle advised. “Please respect the hard choices our business community is making and be kind and patient as you head out for dinner or a concert.”
Stratton Mountain and other resorts ask visitors to read up on COVID rules online — which could change— in order to “know before you go” and have a healthy trip.
“Obviously, we’re still being careful around the resort,” Kimiecik said, referring to steps such as indoor mask-wearing aside from when actively eating or drinking. “But we’re happy to have everyone come up and enjoy the mountain again this season.”