Sometime in mid-November, a snowflake floated down from the sky and joined some other ones at the first place it could find, the highest point in Vermont, the Chin of Mount Mansfield.
One hundred fifty-seven days later, a skier disembarked at the top of the Four Runner Quad lift and joined some of the other skiers and riders who were hooting and hollering and most definitely not lobbing snowballs at the last few dozen chair riders.
The Stowe Mountain Resort main parking lot was packed with cars and it smelled like hot dogs on Sunday, with grills galore sending meat scents toward the sunny skies. With temperatures flirting with 70 degrees and the forecasted weekend rain largely missing the region, it was the kind of weather that closing day was made for.
The snow was thick and corn-like and there were more routes from the top of the Four Runner Quad to the base than typical, nary a bald spot. Even for people with a season’s worth of skiing behind them, the heat and mush made for an aerobic day.
Claudia, a snowboarder from Essex, used a beer break at The Den, the rustic bar at the Mansfield Base Lodge, to get rid of her base layers. Overheating isn’t a typical source of discomfort on the ski slopes, she remarked.
Carol Blattspieler worried to her fellow chairlift passengers that there were far fewer helmets than typical, but skiers and riders didn’t seem to be hitting Liftline with any less gusto than normal.
Sunday was also Easter, and the resort opened the gondola for its annual sunrise service at 5 a.m. and, since there’s still plenty of snow, kept the gondola open until noon.
Stowe Mountain Resort opened for the winter season Nov. 16 to a near-powder day. And for the rest of the month and well into December, the snow didn’t stop. The first month of the ski season was so snowy, in fact, that people began grumbling that only two lifts were open and all that choice terrain was going to waste.
If chasing powder stashes and cruising the Front Four are a jaded vet’s primary directives, complaining about Vail Resorts isn’t something of a secondary hobby.
This is the second year that the Rocky Mountain corporation has operated Stowe.
The takeover brought the Epic Pass to Stowe; overnight, it cut in half the cost of a season pass, a pass that also offers nearly unfettered access to Vail’s other resorts out West and overseas. Olympic skier Tiger Shaw, a Stowe native, said the Epic Pass — and the similar Ikon Pass, by resort collective Alterra — has already alleviated a big strain on people’s pocketbooks.
“It’s made skiing in multiple places so affordable for so many,” he said.
Local ski industry insider Alex Kaufman, host of the “Wintry Mix” podcast, thinks the era of massive resort collectives may bring in the usual growing pains, like parking and lift lines, but they also bring in money.
“Some people are grumbling about the crowds, but I’m sure the restaurants and the local tax collectors are absolutely loving it,” Kaufman said.
A Mountain Road traffic jam in mid-January — caused when some vehicles got stuck on the steep pitch up to the resort known as Harlow Hill — got many muttering that Stowe doesn’t yet have the infrastructure to handle new droves of Epic Pass holders.
But even on that day — especially on that day — many locals did what locals have always done: beat the crowds.
“The Harlow Hill issues are all a matter of perspective, depending on which side of the traffic jam you were on,” skier Alan Ouellette said of that particular powder day.
This was also one of the snowiest seasons on record.
Scott Braaten, who runs the snow podcast Braatencast, said the WCAX snow stake at Mount Mansfield read 80 inches on Jan. 20 — the second-highest snowpack ever recorded on that date at the stake.
That was after perhaps the worst stretch of weather — November and early December powder turned into ice after a late-year rain shower, freeze-and-thaw stretch — when the snowpack depth had to be largely reset. Tons of snow fell in January and, but for a February blip, continued through March, pushing the snowpack at the stake to 140 inches as spring arrived.
Now, the lifts are shut down, but the slopes are bound to stay busy for the near future, as diehard skiers and riders get up the mountain on their own power so they can cruise down.