Severe Weather Impedes Winter Activities



The view from Heaven’s Gate chairlift on Lincoln’s Peak.


Over winter break and into New Year’s, the country as a whole and New England in particular experienced severely cold temperatures. Vermont saw many days of below zero degree weather with temperatures in Burlington dipping to 28 below during the day and as low as 40 below at night. The cold weather even forced Jay Peak Resort to close down its upper mountain lifts; temperatures came in at 31 below zero without windchill for areas higher than 2,500 feet above sea level. Forecasters warned people to be wary of hypothermia and frostbite from the arctic blast in Vermont and large areas of the Midwest and Northeast.

The severe temperatures negatively affected many local ski areas in Vermont. According to Candice White at Sugarbush Resort, “The cold temperatures certainly had a negative impact on lift ticket purchases over the Christmas holiday. We were down in revenue.” Peter Mackey at the Snow Bowl offered a similar insight stating, “[the cold weather] impacted us negatively for sure; our busiest day was the day after Christmas, which was the only day during the holiday week above zero.”

Ben Arquit ’20, who skied in Vermont over break and explained how the cold temperatures had a big impact on skiing in Vermont: “Many people, especially families, chose to stay home on days where the wind chill resulted in temperatures of 40 below zero. One day was so cold (55 below with wind chill) that Killington, the biggest ski area in the east, had to close for a whole day for the first time in recent memory. The mountains were definitely less crowded than usual during the winter break.”

Towards the end of break, the country experienced another round of drastic weather in the form of a ‘bomb cyclone.’ ‘Bombing’ occurs when a low pressure system’s central pressure falls 24 millibars in 24 hours or less. The country saw the effects of the bomb cyclone on a large scale. The storm’s path through some of the busiest air travel corridors in the country also prompted airlines to cancel more than 4,000 flights and delay 2,000 more. Boston’s Long Wharf was impacted by a three-foot tidal surge that pushed floodwaters into buildings and down the steps of the Aquarium mass transit station.

According to White, “The recent bomb cyclone brought us Winter Storm Grayson, which delivered some terrific snow, driving skier visits, also brought cold temperatures, which typically negatively impact skier visits.”

“Following break, the bomb cyclone was awesome for the ski areas. More than a foot of snow was welcome news to many of the resorts after a cold, icy break,” Arquit said. “The Snow Bowl especially benefited and was fully open by the beginning of J-Term.”

“The bomb cyclone affected us very positively but, unfortunately, only for a short time. We were in full operation for a few days with great conditions even where we don’t make snow,” said Mackey.

In the next phase of dramatic weather, Vermont saw unusually warm temperatures in early January that negatively affected skiing. “The warm temperatures were accompanied by almost two inches of rain, which hits our natural snow trails fairly hard. Our man made snow trails, which make up 70 percent of the mountain, can withstand the rain much better. On Jan. 13, we closed many of our natural trails for the day. The changeover from rain to cold temperatures also caused some icing on our lifts, which caused delayed openings on some lifts. And the winds were strong, which caused wind-hold on some upper-mountain lifts,” said White.

Mackey explained how, “We’re only operating the Sheehan Chair presently while we make snow on the Worth Mt. Chair to make those snowmaking trails safe. Two to three feet of natural snow that we accumulated over the course of a month basically disappeared within 36 hours!”

Arquit further described the impact on the snow bowl stating, “Unfortunately, the recent warm weather dealt a blow to the Bowl. Even as temps dropped this weekend, only one lift at the Bowl was open. Luckily, they are blowing lots of snow and should be back fully open within a few days.”

“We’re experiencing extreme weather and extreme swings in the weather,” Mackey described, “going from 10 degrees and full operation on Wednesday (Jan. 10) to 53 degrees with one lift open two days later and back to 13 degrees the next – that’s a 73 temperature swing over the course of 3 days!”

“This business is fickle – we’ve certainly had better years. It’s tough when any holiday period is impacted by the weather, because they are critical to our success,” White said.