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McQuiston: Ski Industry Rebound

The EB-5 fraud case that was exposed a year ago was a suitable capper to one of the worst ski seasons in memory. A million skier days had been lost in a single winter, as the short, warm season ended with scandal.

But then, in the ensuing 12 months, Vermont has had one of the most interesting and economically uplifting seasons in its history. While the skiing rebounded nicely to a more average year and the snow returned to near records, though not always at the right time, the business side of the business was a juggernaut that will have enduring ramifications.

Since that fatal day when grim-faced state officials explained the massive fraud, the following has happened: The Burke Mountain Hotel has opened; the Burke Mountain Academy expanded and received a US Ski Team designation as an official training site; gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin, its most famous graduate, won a World Cup slalom at Killington; Killington hosted the first such event in Vermont since the 1970s, which was made even more delicious by the fact that other World Cup races in the Rockies were canceled that same Thanksgiving weekend because of lack of snow; shortly after that Mount Snow got the OK for a 52 million dollar upgrade; then Vail announced it would buy the ski operations at Stowe Mountain Resort for 50 million dollars. Continuing the East meets West connection, Sugarbush and Aspen agreed to share ski passes.

More recently Killington announced it would spend up to 70 million in development – and revealed it had signed a deal to bring the World Cup back for two more years. Then just this week Stratton Mountain was sold to Aspen as part of a sweeping, 1.5 billion dollar deal which included Mont Tremblant in Quebec.

Those are just the headliners.

While this past season didn’t come close to challenging the record-setting seasons of just a couple years ago, it’s a healthy reminder that the ski industry in Vermont is one of the most important we have. It represents thousands of workers and tens of millions of dollars in construction and support businesses.

Eventually, though not soon, Jay Peak will also be sold and that whole mess will be behind us. As the head of Jay put it last year, “All we need is snow.” And he might have added …”at the right time.”

Tim McQuiston is editor of Vermont Business Magazine.
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