For the second straight year, the long Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend brought a surplus of skiers and a dumping of snow to Stowe, leading to traffic jams all over town.
“We had, so to speak, a perfect storm of bad traffic conditions this past weekend,” said Amy Tatko with the Vermont Agency of Transportation.
That included an actual storm that brought several inches overnight Saturday through midday Sunday, combined with “huge promotions” that Stowe and other resorts were offering to lure skiers and riders to their trails and lodges.
One of the vehicles stuck in the long line stretching the entirety of Route 108 — the Mountain Road — between the village and Stowe Mountain Resort: the state highway plow truck meant to be clearing that same road.
Tatko said it took the plow truck 2 hours and 45 minutes to get from Stowe village to the resort, a distance of 8 miles.
“We were out on the road attempting to do our jobs, but our truck was in that same line of traffic,” Tatko said. “Our plow truck is a vehicle trying to use the road like everyone else.”
Tatko added that out-of-state vehicles that weren’t well-equipped, and rental cars that didn’t have snow tires, “seemed to be a contributing factor, as well.”
While traffic was slow, there were no serious accidents, according to Stowe Police Chief Don Hull, whose department alerted visitors about traffic delays.
“We did a Facebook post advising people to take public transportation, but even that was slow,” Hull said. “We had the problem a couple of times last year, and when it’s a holiday weekend and it’s fresh powder, you’re going to get that volume of people who want to get to the resort.”
The staff at Stowe Mountain Resort was aware of what was happening below.
“In addition to snowy road conditions, we were made aware that traffic flow was held up twice during the morning,” said Jeff Wise, senior director of communications at Stowe Mountain Resort. “Once to allow the state snowplows up the road and again to escort Stowe Mountain Rescue vehicles into the Smugglers Notch recreational area to help an injured person.”
Joe Olivieri drives for Stowe-based Snowflake Taxi. At least he does most days; on Sunday, he spent more of his time idling in traffic or parked off to the side to wait it out.
Olivieri said every way into Stowe was backed up — stretching a half-mile south from the village intersection of Main Street and Route 108 past the public safety building and slowed to a crawl all along Barrows Road, the village-bypassing shortcut via Moscow. There was less traffic coming from Morristown to the north, but as soon as you got into town, or as soon as you hit Weeks Hill Road should you have tried that way, you were stuck.
It took Olivieri two and a half hours to get a customer from the Maplefields gas station in the center of town to Stowe Family Practice, a distance of only 2 miles.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. “I don’t know where they came from but there was a lot of people.”
For a taxi driver reliant on multiple passengers to make some money, Olivieri just wasn’t getting any. Eventually, he decided not to just sit around in traffic. The morning rush seemed to calm down after a while, anyway, as the weather cleared and the crowds dissipated.
“I just pulled over on Cape Cod Road” and waited for things to slow down, he said. “Those are four hours I won’t get back.”
Spectrum of opinions
For sheer concentration of skier and rider thoughts, insights, tips, snark and stoke, one would be hard pressed to find a more active conversation board than the Ski+RideVT group on Facebook.
One post, “Stowe Mountain Resort — you can’t get there from here,” elicited about 150 comments, photos and video clips.
There were frustrations about the cars that were trying to get up Harlow Hill, that steep pitch right past the Matterhorn, without snow tires or seemingly any winter driving skills. One person noted that all the Canadian license plate-bedecked cars were fine because that country requires drivers to have snow tires.
There were smatterings of successful reports from those locals who got up early and arrived before the Quad opened and the crowds finished their cups of coffee and clogged the roads.
There were similar dispatches from Smuggs, Jay Peak, Sugarbush and Mad River Glen, all reporting packed parking lots and heavy traffic in the lift lines. Route 2 toward Bolton and Cochran’s was a standstill visible from the interstate.
“Storm…check. Weekend…check. Holiday…check,” read one post. “News flash, it’s gonna be busy!”
Scott Braaten, something of a bard of that bulletin board, posted that while it was “a rough time for locals to ski,” it was good overall to see how crowded everywhere was.
“Just a historically very busy weekend that was taken to new levels statewide with the well-advertised snow,” Braaten said. “It would be interesting to see where today stands statewide for skier visit rankings.”
Conspicuously rare were snarky comments about Vail and Alterra bringing all the people, because literally every resort in Vermont was packed.
“This was a good way to rebound from what was essentially a funeral a week ago,” Braaten posted.
According to the Vermont Ski Areas Association, resorts across the state had record levels of business over the holiday weekend, “thanks to timely snowstorms that resulted in prime conditions for skiing and snowboarding.”
The Saturday-Sunday storm came right on the heels of a snowstorm Thursday night that deposited nearly a foot of snow in the upper elevations.
“Nearly 2 feet of new snow leading into and during the long weekend made for a successful holiday in Stowe,” Wise said. “Traditionally the most popular ski weekend in January, this annual MLK holiday proved to be an opportune ski and snowboard holiday with great snow conditions here in Northern Vermont.”
Sugarbush had its “biggest day” in its 61-year history on Sunday, according to John Bleh, the resort’s public relations manager.
“The snowfall, along with our snowmaking efforts, helped us open a ton of new terrain, which, coupled with relatively warmer temps, kept crowds nicely dispersed all over the mountain,” Bleh said.
Despite rumors that the Mountain Road traffic jam was caused by Stowe Mountain Resort turning guests away because the parking lots were full, Wise said “we continuously parked cars at the resort all throughout the day Sunday without turning any vehicles away.”
“From a resort parking standpoint, our parking team continues to refine and reimagine our strategic parking program,” he said.
Josh O’Gorman contributed to this report.