Brutal year for Vermont ski industry: losses estimated at $ 100 million

Magical mountain
The base lodge of the Magic Mountain ski area. Photo by Mike Faher / VTDigger

Day passes have long been an intentionally scarce commodity at the Magic Mountain ski area.

The resort, located on Glebe Mountain in Londonderry, offers a relaxed, traditional skiing experience – something very different from some of the mega-resorts. In a typical year, Magic Mountain limits its day pass sales to 1,500.

But this winter, Magic reduced its day pass limit to 650 in an effort to reduce overcrowding, allow social distancing and meet state-defined capacity regulations.

Paid visits to Magic Mountain fell 25% and food and drink sales, which typically account for a third of the resort’s revenue, fell 40%.

The numbers were just as dismal in other ski areas in Vermont. Between higher costs and lower revenues – both caused by the Covid-19 pandemic – took an estimated $ 100 million blow to the state’s $ 1.6 billion ski industry this past winter, according to the Vermont Ski Areas Association.

“We are a community mountain; people like to go out and tell stories. But there were no groups, no entertainment, ”said Geoff Hatheway, president of Magic Mountain. “We did what we could, spreading things out on the outside of the mountain, but it really hurt us.”

The Vermont Ski Areas Association estimates that accommodation and food service sales were the hardest hit, with declines of 60% and 70%, respectively. Paid visits by skiers fell by 40%.

Overall, ski tours only declined by around 20%, but Molly Mahar, the group’s chairperson, said that statistic came with a caveat.

Seasonal pass holders still frequented their favorite resorts at high rates, she said, but the number of day pass visits fell. State regulations have made it less convenient for people to travel out of state, and the closure of the U.S. border with Canada has severely reduced a reliable customer base.

Jay Peak and Stowe Mountain Resort generally draw a lot of skiers and visitors from Canada, but not this winter.

“The closure of the federal border and the state’s travel restrictions have been a big reason for the sharp decline in day ticket sales and accommodation revenues,” Mahar said in a statement Tuesday, “then that the interior capacity and the limits of assembly are detrimental to food and drink and the ski school “.

Since two large companies, Alterra and Vail, have purchased the state’s largest ski areas in recent years, have helped local resorts weather financial storms. Alterra and Vail have much deeper pockets than individual Vermont ski areas.

Vermont still has one of the country’s strictest domestic travel policies. For most of the ski season, out-of-state visitors had to self-quarantine for 14 days, or seven days with a negative Covid-19 test. People who have been fully vaccinated have recently been exempted from this policy. (As of Friday, out-of-state travelers no longer have to quarantine.)

Out-of-state skiers typically make up about 75% of the 4 million ski visits to Vermont resorts in any given year, Mahar said.

The application of the quarantine rules was based on the honor system, but resorts still had to limit crowds, keep indoor settings well below normal capacity, and remind guests to wear their masks.

Hatheway said Magic Mountain began to prepare when the pandemic first hit last March. The resort has built outdoor dining areas and installed Plexiglas and indoor air purification systems to limit potential viral spread. And when it comes to enforcing the mask requirement, Hatheway said, a smile has come a long way.

“People appreciated that we were applying things and doing it right,” Hatheway said.

Even with precautions, however, peaks in coronavirus cases this winter have been linked to areas that were also ski towns, like Burke and Dover. More recently, on-site tests were made available to all skiers who so wished by the Ministry of Health.

Yet no ski resort has been forced to close due to a Covid-19 outbreak, and health ministry officials have claimed that ski resorts weren’t to blame for the growing number of cases in ski towns.

The coronavirus precautions that seaside resorts have taken have cost them considerable sums of money, at a time when sources of income were cut off.

So they look to next season. For example, Magic Mountain offered a credit on next year’s pass for those who purchased a season pass and were unable to ski due to Covid-related reasons or precautions.

Hatheway said he received emails from some customers telling the resort to keep their credits. While this is a welcome gesture of goodwill, these credits are just a drop in the ski resort’s bucket.

As it has done with other businesses in Vermont, the state has put fundraising in place to help resorts recoup lost revenue and improve resort safety. Vermont’s 20 or so alpine ski areas received at least $ 5.3 million from state-sponsored programs: the Economic Recovery Grant and the Vermont Ski Area Recreation Safety Grant.

Magic has received about $ 150,000 from these programs, and those federal P3 grants and loans have been a big help, but the drop in income still hurts, Hatheway said. Yet Magic has managed to keep all of its staff year round and has even hired a few seasonal workers.

Now, after scratching, he is looking forward to the next ski season.

“The North East is following very well in terms of vaccinations and progress on that front, so I think next year could be a really amazing year, whatever the weather,” Hatheway said.

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