Vermont’s Spring Skiing A Respite from the Pandemic
By David McKay Wilson
There’s still life in this year’s pandemic-altered ski season.
In mid-March, as winter turned to spring, and the hard-pack on the northern Vermont slopes softened in the bright spring sun, I headed for the Mad River Valley for four days to ski Sugarbush and Mad River Glen.
I returned to the mountain where I started my season in December, before about 12 feet of snow fell throughout the region in a below-average year.
It was a year when the ski industry challenged itself to provide outdoor recreation without becoming a breeding ground for COVID-19, developed new protocols to keep skiers healthy while forging closer ties with their customers who took the plunge for season tickets.
As April nears, Mad River, without much snowmaking, hopes to make it to Easter while Sugarbush plans to stay open daily until April 25, with a final closing day on May 1. Jay Peak wants to make it until April 30 while Killington has set its tentative closing date for May 2.
The wide-availability of COVID vaccines has eased travel restrictions in Vermont, which had kept out-of-state travelers at bay through early March. Now you can travel there with no quarantine restrictions two weeks after a second vaccination shot.
Conversations with skiers at Mad River and Sugarbush over the weekend revealed that skiing in the great outdoors has proved a welcome respite to the rigors of social distancing, the loneliness of remote working, and provided plentiful opportunities on the slopes for those retirees with time to burn.
Retiree Jennifer Frutchy, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, celebrated the last day of winter at Sugarbush by arising early Saturday morning to ski down from her Snow Creek condo to fetch her husband one of the cider donuts that the resort was handing out to mark its 100th day of operation this winter. It was Frutchy’s 86th day on the slopes, and she hoped to break 100 by season’s end.
Jeff Dinitz of South Burlington had skied 46 days by Sunday at Mad River. Both Dinitz and Frutchy had season passes, which gave them the ability to ski any day, without reservations.
“I’ve been skiing four days a week,” said Dinitz. “It’s been a great winter. I’ve just gone to the bar lots less. They stop serving at General Stark’s Pub at 4.”
Bob Dillon, of Pleasantville, New York, who was at Mad River with his wife, Linda, and daughter, Mia, said skiing this winter let him socialize safely in the outdoors.
“Skiing provides a little bit of normalcy,” he said.
Families have embraced skiing during COVID times as well.
At the base of the Sugarbush Bravo lift, by one of the ski cabanas families could rent for the day during COVID times, the Brady family and friends lounged in lawn chairs, sipping the latest craft-brewed lager from Trapp Brewery in Stowe while their children chased bubbles from a bubble machine. They’d decamped to Vermont for the duration, working remotely from their Vermont digs, with their young children in tow.
Sugarbush is on the IKON pass, so it’s part of the national group that includes Stratton and Killington in Vermont. They’re up against Vail Resort’s EPIC pass, whose Vermont areas include Stowe, Mount Snow, and Okemo.
I ended up with two passes this winter – an EPIC pass for week-long sojourn to Breckenridge and at pass at Mad River, which is my home mountain, where I stay at the White Plains Ski Club lodge. At Stowe, you have to make reservations, even if you’re a passholder. The mountain was sold out when I checked on Wednesday to ski on Saturday.
I didn’t have a pass at Sugarbush, but tickets were available – at $169 a pop. Everyone was masked on Friday when I met up with Frutchy, a Colby College chum from back in the day. The Sugarbush snowmaking operation had put the hill in good shape for the spring season. We found the soft snow in the afternoon sun up high on the North Lynx chair, cranking swooping turns down the groomers, and taking the bumps at good pace.
By the weekend, I was back at Mad River, North America’s only skier-owned mountain that’s run by a non-profit cooperative. A $650,000 forgivable loan through the federal government’s Payroll Protection Program helped the co-op weather the pandemic, as it limited advance tickets so that passholders and those who are shareholders in the co-op would be able to ski any day their wanted.
By Sunday, spring had really sprung at Mad River. Children were dressed up in costumes, with mini-Batmans and Supermen managing their ways down the black diamond trails with care. Young adults were in t-shirts and shorts, catching air hither and yon. The older set broke out their fashionable sweaters to welcome the warmth.
I’d plan to leave at 1 p.m. on Sunday, to get back to the Hudson Valley in time for dinner. But the snow kept getting softer, and finally the bump run called Chute under Mad River’s single chair had corned up. I took a run, and met up with a group of 20-somethings from White Plains Ski Club.
They took me down through the Bunny Woods, where the hard-pack was so forgiving as we dodged the hardwoods in our joyous descent. It felt so good that we skied it again. And I contemplated another trip north before this special COVID ski years comes to a close.
David McKay Wilson, a veteran journalist who lives in New York’s Hudson Valley, is an avid cyclist, skier, and swing dancer. His travel writing has taken him around the world, with his work appearing in the Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, Hartford Courant, and several Gannett daily newspapers.