The last time I had skied in Vermont prior to this season was March 14, 2020. It was a blissful goggle tan day at Okemo Mountain Resort, but it was also one more notable for the sudden precautions being put in place at Okemo and across the ski industry.
Food service was limited, signs across the base pleaded with guests to stay six feet apart (as luck would have it, the length of a pair of skis) from each other, and skiers and riders were encouraged to wear masks while waiting in the lift queue.
That was before the world turned upside down.
Not long after finishing my day with an energetic dash down Quantum Leap came word that all Vail Resorts properties, including Okemo, would follow in the footsteps of other resorts, like Jay Peak, and press pause on the lifts the following day due to the increasing concern of the COVID-19 pandemic. You know the rest of the story.
The pandemic soon brought strict travel restrictions to the Green Mountain State, requiring visitors to quarantine for two weeks before visiting. There was no checkpoint, and for some, last winter went on as planned. For others, it meant sacrificing visitation out of respect for the state.
So, perhaps it was an acknowledgment of how much Vermont missed skiers and riders that upon my first venture across the border, with the intention of skiing, that I would be greeted by a foot of snow.
By Saturday morning, two days after Thanksgiving, Killington reported 19 inches at the summit.
Welcome back, for sure.
“Last year the Depart of Tourism had some interesting challenges with telling people they could come, but…they had to do this, that, or the other,” State of Vermont Tourism communications director Nate Formalarie said. “It’s nice to not have the ‘but’ this year.”
Indeed, Vermont is back open and that’s a relief to the state’s ski industry, which suffered an estimated 30 percent drop-off in revenue last season, with losses estimated at $100 million, according to the Vermont Ski Areas Association.
With interstate travel restrictions now a thing of the past, Vermont ski areas are “hoping to see some old friends,” said Ski Vermont director of communications Bryan Rivard.
“We know there’s a lot of pent-up demand for Vermont skiing,” Rivard said. “Especially from the people that couldn’t be here due to stringent health requirements.”
According to Rivard, season pass sales are up across the state, while lodging reservations are on pace with a normal winter season in Vermont. Tourism through the summer and fall did recover some, but Formalarie said the state was most looking forward to a strong winter season.
There is no statewide mask mandate, which means there will be no requirements for skiers and riders to wear a mask while outside. Lifts will, once again, load at normal capacity, and the increase in fire pits, wind screens, and other outdoor environments will serve as some benefit of pandemic outdoor protocols.
“We know that the outdoors is a safe place to be and we’re fortunate that the majority of our sport takes place outside,” Rivard said.
Indoor mask rules will vary by ski area, and some may require proof of vaccination. Visitors are encouraged to check each resort’s web site prior to travel in order to learn about the latest requirements. Vermont has even set up a number of free testing sites throughout the state, now open to out-of-state visitors as well.
Thanksgiving weekend brought thousands of those visitors to Killington, where World Cup champion Mikaela Shiffrin thrilled a sold-out crowd of 10,000 fans by capturing her fifth-straight slalom title in the Killington Cup on Sunday. The popular stop on the World Cup tour didn’t take place last year due to the pandemic, and even though weather forced the cancellation of Saturday’s grand slalom race, the vibe that spectators and skiers shared at the base and on the slopes was unmistakable.
“I don’t think I am alone in how excited I am for the season,” Rivard said. “I grew up in New England and learned to ski right here in Vermont with a variety of terrain and unmatched snowmaking. There’s a reason why it’s the No. 1 ski state in the East. The towns you experience here are quintessential New England. You can just feel that deep connection Vermont has with its ski history. There’s a mountain here for everybody with different terrains, regions, and mountain cultures that really are as unique as Vermonters themselves.”
Winter is here. Vermont is back. And what a welcome mat the state laid out for those returning last weekend.
Eric Wilbur can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.