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Slow Start To Winter Takes A Toll At Vermont Ski Resorts

Amy Kolb Noyes
The cover is thin-to-nonexistent on certain trails at Stowe, which is reporting 21 open trails out of 116. The lack of snow is disappointing for skiers, and has also caused staffing cuts at other Vermont resorts.

The lack of snow is disappointing for skiers, but it’s also a problem for the several thousand people who depend on Vermont ski resorts for seasonal work; many resorts are reducing hours or delaying the start of those employees, while other resorts are having to get creative in the way they put staff to work.

Killington spokesperson Michael Joseph says typically at this time of year the resort is fully staffed with lots of seasonal help. But the lack of snow has changed that, for obvious reasons.

“Schedules for hourly seasonal staff are being reduced based on business levels,” he said, “but only on a temporary basis due to lack of work. We hope to return to our normal level of staffing within a couple weeks really as soon as the weather turns colder.”

Tom Donahue, executive director of the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce, says unfortunately, many in the Rutland area depend on the extra income from seasonal ski jobs – and losing pay just before Christmas is tough. "But that's the nature of the industry, and you can only blame Mother Nature," says Donahue. 

Officials at Okemo say they typically go from 250 year-round staff to 1,500 during the ski season. Okemo spokesperson Bonnie MacPherson says they too are reducing hours for seasonal staff. But she says the resort is still hiring positions for when they ramp up to full strength.

And despite the lack of natural snow, Killington and Okemo both have more than a dozen trails open for skiing and riding.

“And it’s really good skiing!” laughs MacPherson. “It’s a real treat to have spring skiing, nice soft snow in December. So it’s a little preview of March before the holidays.”

Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR
A foggy afternoon at Stowe. At nearby Sugarbush, Marketing Director Candice White says staff are finding creative ways to keep guests happy.

Candice White, the marketing director at Sugarbush, says that while some of their seasonal staff has had their hours cut, the resort is also still hiring for positions like housekeeping, so it's ready when the crowds do come.

White says there have been some cancelations for Christmas week, but they had a waiting list that’s filled many of those spots.

She says the lack of snow just means they have to get more creative to keep guests happy. She points to skiing and riding instructors who began seasonal lessons last weekend.

“Instead of our ski and ride staff being on snow with kids, they were on the snow maybe half the time they would typically be on the snow,” says White.  “Then they were hiking with them in the woods, doing scavenger hunts, taking to them to the health and recreation center to rock climbing - those types of positions are still in full force, just doing things in addition to skiing and riding.”

She and other resort officials say the good news is much-needed cold weather is expected this weekend.

Update 4:10 p.m. This story has been updated to include additional reporting. The original headline, Slow Start To Winter Prompts Staffing Cuts At 2 Vermont Ski Areas, has also been corrected; there were not staffing cuts at the resorts contacted for this story.

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