On February 19, 2020

Resorts report strong season, despite lower natural snowfall

By Katy Savage

Presidents’ Week is the last major holiday week of the ski season and resorts are expecting the numbers will be strong, with fresh snow and mild temperatures attracting people to the mountains.

The overall season so far has seen highs and lows.

Early season snow and cold temperatures allowed resorts to open strongly—Killington opened Nov. 3 as the first resort open in the eastern U.S. and Okemo opened Nov. 22 with the most open terrain in the resort’s history. But resorts have struggled since then with lower than average natural snowfall and a January thaw, where temperatures reached the high 50s.

“Unfortunately, the weather patterns changed and Okemo has had to be especially nimble with all the freezes and thaws that occurred,” said Okemo Communications Manager Bonnie MacPherson.

A total of 148 inches have fallen at Okemo so far this season, which is slightly down from last season’s totals at this time, when 158 inches fell.

“We have had some challenges with weather, but Okemo’s mountain ops team knows how to make the best of any situation,” MacPherson said.

So far, Okemo has pumped about a third more water through its snowmaking system this season compared to last.

Each year, Okemo goes through 300 to 450 million gallons of water to make snow, drawing water for snowmaking from the Black River and a 150 million gallon reservoir. Okemo can pump 7,000 to 9,000 gallons of water per minute through its snowmaking system, which generates enough snow to cover a trail within about 24 hours. Two teams of snowmakers work 12-hour shifts and make snow around the clock when they’re able.

“Snowmakers were on the job at every opportunity and Okemo increased open terrain exponentially,” MacPherson said.

Photo courtesy Killington Resort

Killington Resort Marketing and Communications Manager Courtney DiFiore said Killington has also recovered well despite the weather. Killington has seen a slight increase in skier visits during select holiday periods this season, DiFiore said. The Killington Grand Hotel was at 91% occupancy last weekend compared to 90% the previous year while occupancy was expected to be 73% occupancy midweek for Presidents’ Week and 84% the following weekend, compared to 88% the previous year.

“Luckily, with the upgrades in lifts and snowmaking over the past two seasons we’ve been able to welcome all our new guests and keep on-hill traffic moving pretty well – especially when all our lifts are running in unison,” DiFiore said.

Business owners say this winter has been up and down.

“The weather has been crazy,” said Inn at Long Trail owner Murray McGrath, explaining the warm weather in neighboring states has prevented people from driving to Killington.

“If they don’t see it in their backyard they don’t come up,” McGrath said.

Sushi Yoshi owner Nate Freund said he’s seen an increase in midweek business—especially since Killington Resort started offering Pico for private rent Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

For the past two seasons, Pico has been offered for rent starting at $6,700, which includes base lodge and mountain access for up to 250 people. Additional guests cost $15 each.

“It really changes the dynamic on the road midweek,” Freund said. “I think this year has probably been the most even.”

Freund said he still sees midweek business lows, but “the lows midweek are higher than they used to be.”

Pico has been rented seven times so far this season to various private companies and fundraisers, DiFiore said.

“The season has been a typical New England winter filled with early season snow storms followed by a January thaw, but winter’s back in full force and we’re operating at 100% with amazing conditions at both Killington and Pico,” DiFiore said.

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