GRAFTON, Vt. — Southern Vermont and New Hampshire ski resorts are giving mixed reviews of the 2020 winter season, surviving on creativity and versatility after receiving late snow in December and 60-degree thaws in January.
Although this winter has been challenging with mixed and spotty precipitation, Ski Resort Associate Nate Guest of Grafton Trails & Outdoor Center, a small alpine mecca for cross-country skiing, said he is still seeing a good turnout.
“We started the season off pretty well with the first couple storms,” said Guest about opening the 18-trail resort.
With 17 open trails, of which more than half are completely groomed and track set plus one tubing trail, Guest explained that this winter has been about more than skiing and that versatility is helping the resort hang on through the winter season.
“We have tubing trails, six fat bikes in the rental shop and snow shoe trails and that is where a lot of our winter activity has been solid,” he said. “We have a good amount of skiers as well but tubing, biking and snow shoeing have been especially popular.”
Guest stated that the last week has made up for some lost time earlier in the season.
“It’s been hit or miss, you know. We’ve had a few smaller storms that have come through that have, you know, enabled everybody to get up and ski on the hillsides and right now we just got another fresh two inches of snow last night,” Guest said. “So we’re doing okay. I mean, it could be a lot better. We do have a tuber trail that we made snow for here that has been pretty good.”
Owned by The Windham Foundation, Grafton Trails & Outdoor Center is a rather small business with a similar sized snowmaking operation.
“We have about 10 kilometers that are groomed, we have about seven kilometers at our track set. We have a total of 11.45 kilometers available and our snow base is about four inches deep,” Guest said. “We were able to groom yesterday. So really it’s been the best it’s been pretty much all season except for the beginning of the season there and we’ve had a lot of people go snowshoeing here despite the lack of snow,”
The resort has been forced to rely on their snowmaking operations more this season than in previous year.
“Like I said, they did blow snow for that from the beginning of the season. So that’s been a pretty good run for the duration of the year,” he said.
According to Guest, the winter population is about the same, but this season lovers of snow have expanded their horizons to more than skiing, with more patrons partaking in ice skating, mountain biking, tubing and snowshoeing that they have been accustomed to seeing.
“Everybody has been having a really good time. Everybody has been enjoying it despite the lack of snow. We had a dry spell there in December where those actually grass poking through the field out front. So despite the lack of snow we’ve got a lot of good feedback people are really enjoying the tubing run this year. But just in the last couple of days, we’ve had quite a few skiers come through and everybody’s been really happy.”
Chuck Allen of Arrowhead Recreation area said they were delayed this year in opening until Martin Luther King Jr. weekend as a result of the New Year thaw and a struggle to jumpstart the season as perception dominated the minds of some skiers.
“If people don’t see snow on the ground they are more likely to assume no snow on the trails,” said Allen, who elaborated that he has also observed a higher rate of tubing over downhill skiing so far this season. “We have our small area main slope and skiing wise is just one big wide-open main slope. So we had to make more snow which was time consuming but so far we really haven’t lost any weekends as far as tubing because of the weather but we’ve been limited on the ski slope. People don’t always come because they don’t see any snow in their backyard.”
Allen continued: “We have a groomer and we make snow. We can run the groomer over before each day. We have an ice rink that’s been active all year and cross-country ski trails and we do have a complete rental shop for skis and snowboards. We haven’t had much activity on the ski and snowboard area until recently. We’ve had quite a few people come out, you know, once they realized we have snow,” he said about how word of mouth has saved them recently as well as more snow.”
Last year, Arrowhead had 40 entries in the cardboard sled race. This year, Allen expects the numbers and excitement to be just as good.
“Coming up today is the cardboard sled race and that’s a big thing. It’s really popular and some people go all out and make serious sleds, some people just throw one together and there are some funny ones too,” he said.
Allen said although they are a weekend-only operation, they will be open next week on Thursday and Friday.