Wind: 8 mph
By Erin Post
Drizzles of rain in December, spring-like temperatures that confused some flowers into budding mid-winter, ski trails boasting nothing more than rocks and grass even after New Year's celebrations ended: All of these miseries seemed to fade as the storm clouds gathered over the Valley on February 14.
And for good reason--the blizzard that blanketed the Green Mountains in almost three feet of snow also seems to have jumpstarted The Valley's economy and rejuvenated outdoor enthusiasts.
It's all enough to make skiers positively giddy.
"They were like little kids," said Eric Friedman, marketing director at Mad River Glen, in reference to the thousands of skiers who turned out for a weekend on trails covered with fresh powder.
The record-setting snowfall heralded the start of the Presidents Day weekend, traditionally one of the busiest for businesses that depend on snow.
Parking lots at The Valley's ski areas, as well as many motels and inns, started filling up February 16 and 17, as soon as travelers had time to clean off their cars and pack up their suitcases.
And the traffic is expected to continue through this weekend and possibly into next week, when many Vermont schools have vacations to coincide with Town Meeting Day.
The rest of the week and the upcoming weekend "should be huge" for Mad River Glen, Friedman said.
The cooperatively-owned ski mountain has recently turned a corner; Friedman said the ski area is poised to catch up with year-to-date revenue for last season, thanks in large part to the snowstorm.
Saturday's power outage couldn't even squash the enthusiasm. Friedman said the Single Chair kept churning, and skiers took it all in stride.
"I'm absolutely convinced we have the happiest lift lines in the country," he said.
JJ Toland, Sugarbush's director of communications, said it was a record-setting weekend at that mountain as well.
On Saturday and Sunday, signs were posted declaring the Lincoln Peak parking lot full.
"I have never seen that before," he said.
In part because the snowstorm garnered national attention, the ski resort experienced a significant spike last Wednesday in the number of unique visitors to its website. This in turn led to phones "ringing off the hook" for room reservations and the phones haven't stopped since.
"We are nearing the 100 percent-booked mark for resort lodging," Toland said in reference to the coming weekend, "and with another storm on the horizon, we expect to be jamming."
Area motel and innkeepers also report travelers continuing to roll in even after a busy Presidents Day weekend.
"It was great. We definitely needed that snow," said Paul Lavoie, owner of the Wait Farm Motor Inn.
He said about 80 percent of rooms were booked prior to the storm, and business only picked up from there. As the inches of snow piled up, so too did the phone calls, he said, adding that the inn ended up at about 95 percent of full occupancy last weekend.
At some inns, skiers and other visitors to The Valley banded together to dig out in the days after the storm.
Betsy Pratt, principal owner of the Mad River Barn, said about 18 skiers staying at the inn got out shovels Thursday morning to clear the feet of snow that had piled up on vehicles in the parking lot to help out their fellow travelers.
"It was a very cheerful scene," she said.
Although the Sugartree Inn was completely booked for Presidents Day weekend prior to the storm, owner Graham Hewison said the dumping of snow should help attract travelers even into March.
He expects a good crowd for the end of this week and said word of the stellar ski conditions seems to be getting around.
All of this is good news for many businesses struggling to make up for a less than ideal Christmas holiday season.
"We've got a lot of catching up to do," Hewison said.
Mother Nature may be providing a little more help for The Valley: The National Weather Service is forecasting another chance for a snowstorm on Sunday and Monday.