Wimpy Winter Forces Race Cancellation and Ski Area Closure

Vermont's wimpy winter has forced the cancellation of a popular 71-year-old ski race that had been scheduled for this weekend, and led to the early closure of a ski area.

The Stowe Derby, which tests participants' skills by combining downhill and cross-country terrain using just cross-country skis, will not happen this year, due to a lack of snow, announced event organizer Pascale Savard.

"It's a legendary race," Savard said. "It's a shame that we have to cancel."

Savard said last year, close to 800 people skied or used "fat bikes" in the Stowe Derby. The event also brings out large numbers of spectators and creates a celebratory community feeling, she said.

This year, Savard noted, due to below-average snowfall totals and above-average temperatures that left the cross-country portion of the race course mostly grass, pre-registration numbers were a bit sluggish. About 325 people had signed up, Savard said.

Savard said the race was already rescheduled once, following poor conditions on the event's original late-February date.

Entry fees will be refunded or honored next year, when the race outlook just has to be better. "It can't be worse," she said, laughing.

There is snow in the mountains, however, owing to Vermont resorts' investments in snowmaking technology in recent years.

According to the trade group Ski Vermont, a full 80 percent of the state's downhill terrain, or about 4,000 acres, is covered by snow guns.

Those guns have been working hard whenever they could this season, Ski Vermont president Parker Riehle told necn, creating a sizable base of snow at Vermont's larger resorts, which has been soft due to recent mild temperatures.

Combined with what resorts hope will be cooler temperatures at night in the days ahead, that snow base has Vermont's larger resorts optimistic they'll be skiing into April, Riehle said. Riehle said April is when business tends to drop off for resorts, anyway.

At Mad River Glen in Fayston, though, a message board reads "Uncle," because the destination is crying uncle after a punishing season.

"We're throwing in the towel; we quit," spokesman Eric Friedman sighed, after Mad River closed Sunday for the season.

Friedman said every time the destination that depends on natural, not machine-made snow, got a storm, it seemed it was followed by a thaw or melting rainfall. Friedman said this year, Mad River Glen received slightly more than 100" of snow for the 2015-2016 ski season, less than half the spot's 225" average.

"This is the worst season we've had since 1980," Friedman added, noting the co-op ski area typically operates for 100 days each season, but this year only ran for 45 days.

Friedman said Mad River Glen already had to trim back hours for part-time employees prior to the earlier-than-desired closure.

"Our hourly people are the ones who can least afford it, too," he said. "They really took it on the chin. We're doing furloughs for the year-round staff, too, which we've never done before, so everyone's feeling the pain."

Friedman said Mad River Glen could reopen if there were a truly colossal snow storm, but barring that, the destination is just hoping for better results next season.

"This is truly a special place to ski, and when it snows hard, skiers flock here like pilgrims to a holy shrine," Friedman said. "When it's good, it's good, and when it's not, it's not."

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