Hard hit by pandemic, ski areas invest to stay resilient

February 24, 2021 | 3 min read

Up and down the East Coast, Vermont is an iconic ski destination.

The first rope tow made its appearance in Vermont in the 1930s, powered by a Model-T Ford truck. Since then the Vermont ski industry has evolved into an economic engine that helps power Vermont’s economy with hundreds of millions of out-of-state dollars, and a favorite winter pastime for many Vermonters.

Vermont ski areas draw visitors to our local communities. These skiers stop by outfitters, restaurants, lodging facilities, and many other small businesses that make up the heart of our local economy on their way to the slopes.

COVID-19 pandemic challenges most businesses in Vermont

Many businesses have felt the impact of COVID-19. The ski industry is no exception. It has been hit hard by the pandemic. Mountains closed early in March 2020 and reopened at reduced capacities for the 2020-2021 season.

Ski areas are working hard to ensure a safe experience for their customers and their communities, but the economic impact will likely be substantial.

“Vermont’s ski areas are important to Vermont’s economy, and so is the health of our communities during this pandemic,” said Molly Mahar, President of Ski Vermont. “Vermont ski areas are proactively educating skiers about Vermont’s travel restrictions and quarantine requirements and operating under some of the strictest guidance in the country so we can keep people healthy and have a full ski season. This has been a difficult year with increased costs and less visitors, but health and safety have to be our top priority.” 

Burke Mountain keeps the ride strong

One such ski area, Burke Mountain Resort, in East Burke, made investments in their hotel and ski operations, including efficient snow making equipment and chair lift terminals. These investments have led to cost savings that will help Burke weather challenging economic times, making them more resilient.

“With all of the projects that we’ve done, we’re looking at about a $50,000 annual savings”

Tim Chabot, Director of Mountain Operations., Burke Mountain Resort
Energy efficiency investments pay off

In a time of declining revenues, controlling costs is important for ski areas, like Burke Mountain, in order to remain resilient and ride out the pandemic.

One of the most cost-effective ways to save money is with energy efficiency, which many Vermont ski areas have focused on in recent years. Ski areas have invested in vastly more efficient snow-making equipment, upgraded kitchen equipment, heating and ventilation, and lighting in lodges and other buildings. These efficiency upgrades have made many ski areas more resilient.

Efficiency Vermont has been working with ski areas since we were formed back in 2000. Since then we have worked with virtually all of the 20 alpine ski areas operating in Vermont to invest in energy efficiency. Combined, those investments will save the ski industry more than $177 million over the lifetime of the improvements and avoid more than 1.8 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions.

Energy efficiency has proven to be the most cost-effective strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and helping customers save money on energy costs. After a year of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s proving to be a key part of helping Vermonters be resilient. The work that ski resorts have done during the past two decades to reduce their energy use is a great example of this – and by investing in their operations they have in turn invested in their neighboring communities. We look forward to strengthening this connection in 2021 and beyond.