On the day that legendary Vermont ski area Mad River Glen announced it was taking the unusual step of closing for the season after a frustrating snow-deprived year, it snowed lightly on its nearly bare slopes.
“I think someone upstairs is playing with us,” Eric Friedman, marketing director of the ski area in Waitsfield, said Monday. “All you can do is laugh.”
The dusting Monday wouldn’t have made any difference and certainly could not salvage the 2016 season, which was a washout for many ski areas because of this year’s El Niño. The weather system brought milder temperatures and bouts of rain to much of the Northeast.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow for our people because they’re so hardcore,” Friedman said. “We flat out ran out of snow.”
So far this year, Mad River Glen has gotten a paltry 112 inches, compared to 275 inches last season, Friedman said. Because the ski area has less capacity than major resorts to make its own snow, it is much more dependent on weather.
Mad River, which is usually open about 100 days in a typical season, threw in the towel Sunday after only 44. The marquee at the entrance to the ski area carried an appropriately defeated cry: “UNCLE”
“Every time it snowed it rained, and we got a miserable thaw after it snowed,” Friedman said. “We got beaten down to nothing after so many times it was just getting comical.”
For the nonprofit cooperative and its 2,000 shareholders, who live by the motto ‘Ski it if You Can,’ shutting down early was tough. The response from members, who will not be reimbursed, has been overwhelmingly positive, Friedman said.
“Not a single person has asked for a refund,” said Friedman. “They say, ‘We understand what you’re trying to do and we’re sorry.’”
In their memo, Jamey Wimble, Mad River Glen president, and John Stetson, co-op board chairman, told members that seasonal staff had been laid off earlier this season while full-time workers would take unpaid furloughs in the offseason.
“The mountain finds itself in the most challenging financial situation it has seen since the founding of the Co-op in 1995,” the memo stated. “Other regional ski areas are experiencing similar or even worse financial challenges.”
Official calculations haven’t been made, but Friedman estimated Mad River Glen’s revenues are down about 40 percent this year. For the past two weeks, Mad River Glen was only open on weekends, he said.
If the mountain gets a significant amount of snow — at least 3 feet — between now and April 2, they might consider reopening, but Friedman said that is looking very unlikely.
“We’re hopeful, but not really,” he said. “At this time of year you just end up losing more money.”