Vermont ski resorts scramble to accommodate boom in uphill skiers

BOLTON, Vermont (WCAX) – Vermonters are embracing winter like no one else. Many take to the slopes to ski and ride, but some go the extra mile in the burgeoning sport of downhill skiing.

Tuesday morning in Bolton Valley, the chairlifts had not started and the sun had barely risen, but hundreds of people had already made their first descents thanks to alpine skiing. It is a sector of sport that is becoming more and more popular every year.

“You work hard on the way up and have fun on the way down,” said Kristen Eddy of Hinesburg, who arrived around 7 a.m. to climb the mountain in 45 minutes and ski down three minutes before her work day.

Burlington skier Matt Messinger has been climbing for 15 years and says sweat is what keeps him coming back. “Climbing on a cold morning and generating my own heat is the way to go,” he said. But on this 15 degree morning, they are not alone. “The trail was empty and now there are all kinds of people in the parking lot and on the way up.”

Scott Pellegrini of Bolton Valley Resort says hundreds of Vermonters ride Bolton every day and he doesn’t see that changing anytime soon. The uphillers also hit Sugarbush.

“We’ve seen a big surge of interest over the past few years, especially from COVID and through the pandemic it’s become a much more popular sport,” said John Bleh of Sugarbush.

Molly Mahar, president of Ski Vermont, says most ski areas now have their own uphill policy thanks to more and more Vermonters turning to the hills. “It wasn’t really managed before and now it is, which means it’s a safer experience,” she said.

Sugarbush offers free passes to anyone who wants to ride. Interest there has gone from 300 passes in 2016 to 1,500 this year alone. But Bleh says they recently halted uphill operations for a few days due to safety concerns. “We don’t want customers to interact with our mountain operations team, especially at night when they’re doing tough things like grooming or snowmaking. We don’t want people skiing on snow or getting involved with winches or snow groomers,” he said.

If you do decide to climb, officials say there are a few precautions you should take to stay safe: Wear light-colored clothing; ski with a buddy or let someone know where you are; wear a headlamp if it’s dark; and monitor changing weather conditions.

In Bolton, you also have to pay the $17 midweek ($25 weekend) Nordic pass, a policy devised about five years ago. “They often arrive on the first lap of powder before the paying public gets on the lifts,” Pellegrini said.

Both resorts have designated runs to be used for downhill skiing throughout the day, even when the lifts are in operation. Each resort has different amounts of runs open for downhill skiing. Some are open 24 hours a day and others with variable access depending on the day, so find out before you go.

Bleh says stations are continually working on their strategy as the sport develops. “Ensuring that as it grows we adjust our policy accordingly to educate people and manage crowds,” he said.

As more and more locals like Dan Reid of Burlinton tie the skins on so they can ski up and down. “I got into 2020, as a lot of people probably did. I really like it and I like exploring,” Reid said.

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Off the lifts and in the hinterland

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