Vermont No. 1 on East Coast

The ski season started early at Stowe Mountain Resort last winter and finished well, in the second straight boom year for Vermont ski areas.

The number of skier and rider visits was about even with the previous year, Stowe officials said, and the same was true for Vermont resorts overall. They reported more than 4.5 million skier and rider visits — nearly identical to prior winter’s numbers, according to the Vermont Ski Areas Association.

The 4.5 million visits is the third-largest number ever reported, the association said.

Other local ski areas had mixed reports; one reported an 18 to 20 percent increase in business and another said skier visits were down slightly.

Snowmaking improvements begun two years ago allowed Stowe Mountain Resort to open on schedule, and with more trails on opening day than usual, said Mike Colbourn, the resort’s vice president for communications, sales and marketing.

The popular double black-diamond Lift Line trail was among the first trails to open.

“It was the first time ever we had an expert trail on opening day,” Colbourn said.

The snowmaking investments allowed the resort to build its trail count until the natural snowfall amounts picked up in January.

“We met our expectations in February,” Colbourn said. “March and April exceed our expectations. All in all, it was a solid season.”

Skier and rider visits at Smugglers’ Notch Resort were comparable to the prior year and strong from midseason onward, said public relations manager Karen Boushie.

“We had a few peaks and valleys with our skier and rider visits this year, particularly with our destination guests whose travel plans were affected by East Coast storms,” Boushie said.

Ticket sales were slightly behind the previous season at Bolton Valley Resort.

“Although we did OK over Christmas, we didn’t have the best weather and could have done better,” said Josh Arneson, the resort’s director of sales and marketing.

Rain and freezing temperatures in January contributed to the season’s slow start, he said.

“Once we got to February, the season turned around and we made up a lot of ground, but not enough to put us on par with last season,” Arneson said.

Jay Peak Resort reported an 18 to 20 percent jump in skier and rider visits.

“It was a madhouse winter,” said JJ Toland, director of communications for the resort.

The season started strongly, slumped during a stretch of rough weather in January, and picked up again later in the season, he said.

“From Feb. 5 to April 30, it was insane,” Toland said.

He attributes the uptick to a combination of factors. The resort introduced aggressive marketing in Boston and Canada and offered more lodging options than in past seasons. Until recently, it had one outdated, 60-room hotel, but over the past few years it has built three hotels and 200 condominium units.

“People love Jay Peak but weren’t inclined to drive without a bed for their head,” Toland said. “Now, we can sleep between 3,500 and 4,000 people. You add your day traffic from Lamoille and Chittenden counties, and you have a really good model for growth.”

The 2013-14 statewide season tally again ranks Vermont No. 1 in the East for skier/rider visits and No. 3 in the U.S., according to preliminary figures from the National Ski Areas Association.

“This season was most notable for its record early start and incredibly strong finish,” said Parker Riehle, president of the Vermont Ski Areas Association. “We had an industry first with nine alpine and three Nordic areas opening a full week before Thanksgiving, owing to ideal snowmaking conditions and Vermont’s immense statewide snowmaking arsenal.”

A Valentine’s Day blizzard and several late winter storms also helped to boost business, Riehle said.

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