BY WILL ROSS
GOSHEN—Those picturesque Vermont winter mornings, when a fresh blanket of snow lays over the undisturbed ground and the green mountains are cloaked in a white canopy, seem fewer by the year. Vermont is known for its natural aesthetics and winter recreation opportunities. These factors are a major catalyst for tourists and outdoor enthusiasts who travel here hoping to experience winter in Vermont. This seasonal tourism not only benefits the state’s economy as a whole, but also directly supports businesses that have come to rely on predictable snowfall to enable the activities they offer.
Though some residents may embrace the mild winter weather of recent years, a few local establishments have been impacted by these changes. As the frequency of snow-melt events increases, these businesses are finding ways to adapt to the unpredictable snowfall and continue encouraging folks to get outside and enjoy all the great things our state has to offer.
One of these businesses, Blueberry Hill Inn in Goshen, has seen this lack of snow as a deterrent for guests. Founded in 1971, the inn caters to tourism by offering lodging, meals, and events in the heart of the Green Mountains. The Blueberry Hill Outdoor Center across the street is a major draw for guests of the inn. The Outdoor Center is a non-profit Nordic ski area that operates on a donation basis. The Center provides rental equipment and access to the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area, along with its own private trails. But recently, the Outdoor Center has had to consider new ways to bring people in, because of less-than-ideal skiing conditions. The organization has begun expanding the range of activities it offers.
Operations manager Shari Brown said that recently there has been below-average attendance because of the weather and snow conditions. Brown believes that the snow and skiing opportunities are what bring people to Vermont in the winter and that this mild weather can be discouraging for travelers. She noted that wet, muddy roads from increased runoff and rain can also be a factor that limits accessibility.
“It certainly has been a trend,” Brown replied when asked if she thought this mild weather would be a continuing pattern, implying that they had seen inconsistency in the snowpack over previous winters as well.
Laura Contin of the Mountain Top Resort noted they were experiencing similar challenges in Chittenden. The mid-winter melts are limiting the opportunity for recreation activities, such as cross-country skiing and sledding. Clearly, the outdoor centers will be working to encourage all sorts of activities going beyond Nordic skiing.
So how are these local businesses that benefit from winter tourism adapting to the mild temperatures?
Brown said that Blueberry Hill has seen many people who just want to get outdoors and are more accepting of the variables. To accommodate these folks, Blueberry Hill is encouraging hiking and has begun renting out micro spikes to increase access to the trail system.
Mountain Top Resort has taken a different approach, implementing snowmaking to provide an opportunity for skiing despite warmer weather. Their team blows enough snow during the cold season to cover a 1–2-kilometer loop, which is sustained even throughout the melts. This lets Nordic skiers continue using the grounds when there is limited snow. Another draw for guests of Mountain Top Resort is the horse-drawn sleigh rides. Their special sleigh can dash through the snow on rails, but it can also meander around the scenic mountain roads on wheels.
The Brandon Inn does not offer winter recreation activities but gets business from the overflow of the local ski resorts during the busy holiday weeks. To further promote winter tourism, they have begun leveraging their location between Killington and Sugarbush, offering deals during the President’s Day and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day weekends. Guests who have an IKON pass, which grants access to both resorts, can stay their third night at the Inn for free. Families that come to stay in Brandon will be situated right between the two mountains, allowing them easy access to both resorts. So far, the Inn has had a positive response to this promotion.
Events are another way these local inns stimulate tourism. Blueberry Hill has Sunday morning pancake breakfasts, which will resume in late January. They have also collaborated with the folks from Adventure Dinner of Shelburne to put on the third annual, chef-prepared, four-course meal that is hosted along a two-mile trail loop. This is an event that can happen with or without snow, and it has proven to be a great way to encourage folks to get out in the woods during winter. Mountain Top Resort hosts music and events in their tavern and encourages guests to look beyond winter recreation for the many other attractions Vermont has to offer, such as maple syrup and local breweries.
Though the ground may not be covered all winter long, there are still many opportunities during the cold stretches to get out in the snow. And when the weather is milder, people are still encouraged to come visit, explore, and experience all that Vermont’s natural areas have to offer. Folks at these local businesses are treading on new ground, finding ways to be flexible and accepting of the weather we are given. Still, despite the changes and adaptations being implemented, the sentiment that rang through was pray for snow.