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Vacationers seek joy in mudville

With snow in short supply, school vacation hordes are finding the fun of winter where they can

Bill Greene/Globe Staff

The Lionti family posed for a photo after snowmobiling on a thin track of snow in Killington, Vt.

KILLINGTON, Vt. - For New England parents, the February vacation playbook is pretty standard. You embrace the winter weather, and take the kids sledding or skiing or skating. Or you flee it, and head to a warmer locale, even if it’s just a library or the mall.

But in 2012, the year winter forgot, there is nothing to embrace, and nothing to flee. Instead, many families are doing something that would ordinarily seem ludicrous for late February: They’re trying to find winter, chasing one good taste of it before it is officially off the calendar.

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Many headed for Vermont, the can’t-miss winter wonderland, where the February vacation scene is supposed to be so picturesque it could live in a snow globe. Instead, they found that the Green Mountains were far from white; more of an ugly shade of brown.

“To be honest, our expectations weren’t that high, but we did manage to get a couple days of acceptable skiing,’’ said Peter Kriz, who had come up with his family from Barrington, R.I., to ski at Killington Resort. “I guess the kids had their winter in two days.’’

But as the weather turned unseasonably warm again one day this week, the Kriz family had to adapt: Instead of skiing, they spent the day shopping in nearby Woodstock.

And that - adapting, chasing what’s available when winter just isn’t there to be caught - has been the story of the season here in central Vermont’s ski country.

Mike Miller, who owns the Mountain Meadows Cross-Country Ski and Snowshoe Center, just outside the Killington Resort, added a gift shop and an outdoor outfitters to his business several years ago. “If I hadn’t, I’d be a heavy drinker and I’d be playing with guns,’’ he joked. It’s been weeks since he’s had enough snow for skiing, and he shut down the snowshoeing part of his operation last weekend.

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“We’ve survived every up and down in the economy, but the snow is our economy, and there’s nothing we can do without it,’’ he said. “But when it’s iffy, at least people can shop. And I know people who own bars and restaurants, and they’re having a banner year. But the people who depend entirely on snow, I don’t know what they’re doing.’’

Down the road, Killington Snowmobile Tours was open - there was enough snow in the woods to keep running, though it required chugging up a giant mud hill to get to a thin track of snow there. But the customers were a tiny fraction of the norm for a vacation week, according to the owner.

Outside, J.C. Lionti and his family from Westchester, N.Y., were posing for a photo on a snowmobile that rested on brown grass. They had just come back from a trip in the woods, and Lionti said it was odd to ride a snowmobile through the barren scenery.

“It’s been strange like that all week,’’ he said. “Even when you’re skiing, there’s snow on the slopes, but you look around and there’s no snow around you.’’

So did he get his winter fix?

“No. Still no,’’ he said. “Not this year.’’

In Woodstock, Jennifer Page, a local, was coming from coffee with friends, and she said the conversation had been about what a letdown the whole season had been.

“The only reason we have school vacation up here is to ski, but I know so many people who are going away, someplace warm, or the city. I’ve never heard of that. But this whole winter is just wah-wah,’’ she said, making the sound of a muted trombone.

Driving around the Killington area, it was clear that the February vacation crowd, which typically makes for one of the busier weeks at the resort, was thin. The resort received high marks for its snowmaking operation, but Sarah Thorson, a spokeswoman for Killington Resort, said that was winding to a close for the season, possibly after this weekend, though that was typical for this time of year.

“A lot of resorts are done snowmaking by Feb. 1, because Mother Nature usually steps up, but this has been an unusual winter so we’re making do,’’ she said. In a typical year, the resort will get 250 inches of snow. So far this year, it had received 90, Thorson said, though there were hopes that an overnight storm could deliver more than a foot of fresh powder.

At Ski On Ski Off, a slope-side rental complex that borders a long, gentle run that allows vacationers to ski right from their doors, the lack of snow this year made the name downright ridiculous.

“That trail wasn’t open until Jan. 21,’’ when the resort’s snowmakers finally arrived, said Stephan Ivanoff, the office manager for the company. “A lot of our customers were upset, so we were forced to turn from a property management company into a taxi company. I had to drop everything anytime someone called to bring them to the mountain.’’

At the Long Trail Brewery in nearby Bridgewater Corners, Michael and Nicoletta Quinn said they did not, in fact, get their winter fix. But the couple, who had come up from Plymouth, Mass., with hopes of taking their children snowmobiling, did not look too upset about it.

“I find the weather relaxing,’’ Nicoletta Quinn said. “That’s the main thing.’’

Then she took a sip of her beer, and nearly spit it out with excitement.

“I’m drinking their spring beer!’’

And then she smiled and took another sip.

Billy Baker can be reached at billybaker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @billy_baker.

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