Mother Nature's Mood Just Changed

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Next week, the Winter Olympics begin in South Korea. I once had the opportunity to see them in person in Calgary, Alberta. That was the year of” Eddie the Eagle.” Eddie stole much of the show, though watching our USA skiers and the many other athletes in person was a thrill. This year I am looking forward to watching the Olympics on our TV screens here at Sugarbush and cheering on the Vermonters who will be representing our nation.  

In January, Mother Nature was not in the best of moods.  Last Friday morning, I looked at our daily weather forecast and saw that once again we were likely to see southwest winds approaching 55 mph at the summits and remaining for most of the day.  While hope is never a method, we hoped for the best. I awoke at my home in East Warren on Saturday morning with very little wind blowing.  However, when I got to the Lincoln Peak parking lot, I had to push hard to get my car door open. Super Bravo, North Lynx and Heaven’s Gate were already on wind hold, but all the lifts at Mt. Ellen were cleared for operation.  Winds from the north impact Mt. Ellen more, while winds from the southwest hit Lincoln Peak.  We did get Valley House cleared to open at 8 AM, as well as Gate House and the Village Quad.  (Here’s a bit more information on when and why we call wind holds.)

Once again, we have discovered how valuable it is to have the new Valley House lift located in the base area. And now that the Village lift is a quad rather than a double, its heavier weight makes it a bit less vulnerable to the winds. With our lift mechanics stationed at the tops of the affected lifts, we were waiting with hope that we could get them going before the majority of skiers and riders arrived for the day.  Fortunately, Heaven’s Gate came off wind hold first and was accessible by riding the Valley House Quad (taking Reverse Traverse to Heaven’s Gate Traverse).  Shortly afterwards, Bravo was cleared. Running both at a slightly slower speed allowed us to operate them safely.  It was a strange wind because it was calmer higher on the slopes than at mid-mountain.  Unfortunately, North Lynx stayed on wind hold the entire day so we were not able to enjoy freshly-groomed Birch Run and Sunrise.

Saturday night proved to be another challenging event.  Light rain began around 7 PM and lasted until after midnight.  We had Stein’s on the grooming plan, so our winch worked that trail from 5 PM until almost 7 AM the next morning, flattening the huge snowmaking whales.  (See The Rumble for a time lapse video of the Stein’s groom.) It turns out that the trails groomed early were then covered with rain that froze and made for some awful skiing and riding Sunday morning, even though the winds did not affect any of the lifts.  I took two runs down Stein’s first thing in the morning and for a strong skier it was a lot of fun first thing, but it was definitely a trail only for experts that day.  Interestingly, the worst trail of the day was Lower Snowball as it had been groomed early and then froze.  However, the Gate House side was a very different story as it had been groomed later and the sun helped soften it up.  The conditions there actually got better as the day wore on.

I skied early over at Mt. Ellen on Saturday, where the wind was light most of the day.  I found the trails in very nice shape.  Sunday, however, just like at Lincoln Peak, it was a different story and there were clearly challenging conditions where we groomed early.

But it continues to be amazing to see what our groomers are able to do, as they demonstrated again Sunday night.  Stein’s was winched again, and the two early Monday morning runs I took were sweet, as was Ripcord and most other groomed trails.  Lower Snowball and Racer’s Edge remained very hard. Because of that, we turned the guns on those trails this week, as well as on Jester, where the corners were getting thin.  We moved the guns to Mt. Ellen this morning.  This time of year we have a consolidated snow making team so we can only turn on one mountain at a time. We are not making snow to add depth – we have plenty of that.  Rather, we are resurfacing to improve where the groomers alone can’t do the job.  Needless to say, we have been looking to Mother Nature to start doing her share.

Apparently, Mother Nature likes February. Last night, the flakes began flying, and we awoke to a fresh six inches of snow this morning. We are set up well for a great Super Bowl weekend. Not only is the forecast looking good, but the ground hog saw his shadow so we are in for more winter, and skiing right into the first weekend of May.

Sunday afternoon we had a retirement party in the Green Mountain Lounge for Jim Travis, our longtime bartender at Mt. Ellen.  We are really sad to see Jim retire as he has been a great member of the team and a friend to so many.  It was nice to see so many turn out to pay tribute to him.

Last week we also saw further developments at Alterra, the new conglomerate in the industry, as they announced their new IKON Pass.  While some details were announced, a lot of important information such as pricing has not been.  Alterra now owns two Mountain Collective resorts – Squaw and Mammoth--and Aspen’s owner, the Crown Family, is the minority partner in Alterra.  The good news for us is that the Mountain Collective will remain for at least this season and the 2018/19 season.  We are delighted about that. I have spoken to many guests this season who are Mountain Collective passholders and are skiing here as well as out west.

Thank you to all of you who were diligently doing your snow dances. Mother Nature’s January slump has turned.  Here’s a weekend recipe for those of us who are Patriots fans: a full Saturday on the slopes followed by après at one of our bars (and maybe an evening skin up to Walt’s at the Glen House),  followed by a great Sunday morning of skiing and an evening watching Tom Brady connect with The Gronk.  For others, enjoy a full day of skiing on both Saturday and Sunday.