Not to be a downer, but has anybody taken a look at the snow stake atop Mount Mansfield lately?
As of today, the barometer to determine how much snow there is atop the trails at Stowe, reads a measly 14 inches.
The average for this time of year? How about 41.6 inches?
That’s a difference of 27.6 inches of snow, or just over two feet from the average.
Want some good news? Last year, on Jan. 14, the stake read only 22 inches, or 19.6 fewer inches than average.
By Feb. 7 the depth climbed above average (60 inches, 56.7 average). By Feb. 27, the depth climbed way above average (80 inches, 65.2 average).
Which is to say, these January doldrums aren’t unique. Winter may still be on the way.
It has been pretty gloomy as of late around here though. Or, as Ski Vermont representative Adam White told the Burlington Free Press, it has been “a brutal season.”
White told the Free Press that skier visits to the state are down 30-70 percent this season, a number that coincides with Vermont’s strict pandemic travel restrictions, as well as the dearth of natural snow. As of Monday, only 49 percent of the state’s alpine terrain had been open. According to the Free Press, the five-year average for this week is 77 percent of alpine terrain open.
Vermont had 3.7 million skier visits last year, a reduced number thanks to the season’s premature end in March due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Two years ago, that number was 4.2 million.
It will be fascinating to see what that number looks like if both the weather and pandemic continue to cause issues.
For an industry that was reeling last spring, this season has offered little assurance that all will be fine. Despite the vaccine’s presence, COVID numbers are still spiking, and we can only hope it doesn’t result in another shutdown like happened in 2020.
As if that all weren’t enough, the weather is still playing games.
We only have to look at last year though to realize how quickly things can change.
A bold stance
We’ve had our own moments of tension this season in New England due to the pandemic. Some skiers are going at each other arguing about proper face mask protocol or state line requirements. There’s a competition to make reservations on certain dates. There’s also just the annual angst that comes with a winter that has been tepid at best.
But it’s nothing like what’s happening in Idaho this week.
Tom Chasse, President and CEO of Schweitzer Mountain Resort, a ski area featuring 2,900 skiable acres over 92 trails and bowls, announced in a passionate plea this week that the resort would put a pause on its twilight skiing over the upcoming MLK holiday weekend.
Chasse didn’t hold back the reason why.
“Due to an overwhelming lack of compliance with our mask policies and social distancing in the rental shop, day lodge, and lift lines during twilight skiing, I have made the decision that we will not be offering twilight skiing over the MLK holiday weekend – Friday, Saturday, and Sunday Jan 15 – 17, 2021,” Chasse posted on the resort’s Facebook page. “I will not continue to tolerate the verbal abuse that has been directed towards our staff as they have attempted to enforce our safety requirements.
“We hope this ‘pause’ in our twilight skiing operation will provide our staff a much-needed break from the constant struggle of trying to operate safely during the pandemic as well as a reminder to our guests of our commitment to our safety protocols. We need everyone to do their part so we can slow the spread and continue to shred.”
Most of the responses were supportive in the decision, mainly noting it was put in place out of respect for Schweitzer’s employees.
According to the Idaho Statesman, Schweitzer threatened to close in early December if skiers and riders in the lift lines refused to wear masks. Dig Chrismer, marketing manager at the resort, told the news outlet that while day skiers were 95-98 percent compliant with the request, the nighttime crowd was a different story.
“What we’ve noticed with twilight skiing is that people aren’t thinking it’s serious,” Chrismer said. “There just doesn’t seem to be that same sense of urgency from our nighttime skiers.”
Hence, the shutdown this weekend, one of the busier periods during the season for the ski industry as a whole.
On our end of things, there haven’t been too many incidents proposed like is happening out in Idaho. There have been isolated incidents of strife, a few matters here and there of indignant customers, but nothing so drastic as shutting a ski area down for a period of time Still, COVID remains a touchy subject when it comes to how ski areas operate.
In recent weeks, a New England resort representative told me that he wouldn’t speak about the resort in question under a particular umbrella of pandemic questions. Life was hard enough as it was, he said, dealing with out-of-state visitors with no regard for the travel protocols whatsoever.
It doesn’t take an investigative report to figure out that there are thousands ignoring the travel protocols laid out by Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine. Just look at the lift lines on any given social media site, on any given day. Check out the license plates in the parking lot. Did everybody really quarantine before crossing into the Green Mountains? Yeah, right.
So far, no such drastic measures are in place here as they are in Idaho this weekend.
Century mark for Shiffrin
Mikaela Shiffrin ended a year-long drought in her strongest event, the slalom, with a first-place finish Tuesday at Flachau, Austria.
It was the product of Burke Mountain Academy’s 100th World Cup podium, making her only the eighth skier in World Cup history to reach 100 podium finishes.
On the women’s side, only Lindsey Vonn (137), Annemarie Moser-Proell (114), Renate Goetschl (110) and Vreni Schneider (101) have more top-three finishes than Shiffrin.
Shiffrin had most recently won a grand slalom last month, her first victory since her father’s death earlier this year.
“You can’t really move forward until you stop trying to go back, and I’m having a difficult time with that,” she told reporters. “I want to change so many things that happened this last year. It’s hard not to want that, to just want life to be like it was before Feb. 2. I’m probably going to be struggling with that for a while, but I think that tonight was a pretty big step.”
New episode of New England Ski Journal TV
A new edition of New England Ski Journal TV debuts Sunday night on NESN. In-studio host Meredith Gorman will deliver the latest news from the slopes of the region at 8:30 p.m. The show will also air on NESN, Monday afternoon at 2, Jan. 24 at 8:30 p.m.., and Jan. 25 at 2 p.m. (Additional airings: NESN+: Jan. 19 at 6 p.m., Jan. 24 at 11 p.m., Jan. 26 at 6 p.m.’ NESN National: Jan. 24 at 8:30 p.m., Jan. 25 at 2 p.m., and Jan. 26 at noon.)
You can catch the season premier of New England Sports Journal TV below: