Vermont’s Outdoor Recreation Sector Wonders ‘Where’s Winter?’

Snowmobiling and skiing are feeling the effects of mild temperatures and no snowfall

Vermont's critical outdoor recreation sector is feeling the effects of an unusually mild December with no natural snowfall.

Monday, with temperatures rising past 50 degrees at Mad River Glen, a co-op ski area in Fayston, Eric Friedman posted a sign on a message board outside the destination reading, "All we really want for Christmas is snow."

"We're definitely getting a little antsy," Friedman told necn. "Christmas is really an important holiday for us, and it's not looking so good."

Mad River Glen relies on natural snowfall more than most resorts do, Friedman explained. Its snow guns can only touch up about a tenth of the trails, but only when it is cold enough for them to run, and that has not been the case lately.

"You just have to be patient and wait, and it'll come eventually," Friedman said of chillier winter weather. "When the snow does come, and it will, skiers will flock here like pilgrims to a holy shrine, and we are well-known for a great experience after we get the snow."

Larger ski resorts do have snow, thanks to investments many have made in recent years to build out their snowmaking infrastructure. However, all of them would say they would like to see a boost in the form of natural snowfall, as well as a significant drop in temperatures so they could crank up their snowmaking operations.

On its website, Sugarbush said Monday that recent temperatures have been too warm for snowmaking, but promised whenever it can, its snowmaking team will be out "working their magic" to improve conditions and build up a base of snow.

According to the statewide trade group Ski Vermont, eight resorts are currently open, with that number expected to climb to 12 this weekend. While early-season skiing often helps build excitement for the sports, resorts typically think of Christmas week as signaling the start of the most important stretch for their core business operations.

Meteorologist Michael Page of necn said there is the potential for some snow showers in the mountains this week, and for a cool-down this weekend that could allow for more substantial snowmaking at many resorts, but no significant dumping of natural snowfall in the current forecast.

At the Barre headquarters of VAST, the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers, executive director Cindy Locke said snowmobilers, too, are eager for a weather turnaround.

"We are just so pumped and ready for snow," Locke said, noting the state's 4,700 miles of snowmobile trails of course cannot make snow.

This week marks the traditional start of the snowmobiling season in Vermont, though snow is never guaranteed at this early point in the season. Locke said following a very strong year for snowmobile sales, she is expecting a good year for trail pass sales, even if machine owners will have to keep waiting in order to use those passes.

Locke said VAST has more than 24,000 members in 128 trail-riding clubs statewide, and that she expects participation numbers to be at that level again this year.

One silver lining to the mild weather, Locke said, is that volunteers have been able to do more trail maintenance.

"This has allowed them a little extra time this year," Locke said of the air temps in the 50s. "Though we'd much rather have the snow, that's for sure!"

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