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Covid 19 Impact on Vermont Ski Resorts Via 'New York Times'

Just as winter was about to start, the state instituted a stricter quarantine and test requirement for visitors, and the snow-sports economy is bracing for the impact.

In some ways, it looked as though the pandemic could be good for Vermont’s ski season. With international destinations out of reach and domestic air travel feeling risky, the state had the biggest ski market in the nation — New York and the Northeast corridor — at its doorstep.

“For the very first time Vermont and New England have access to the full Northeast market share,” said Brian Maggiotto, general manager at theInn at Manchester in southern Vermont. “And with many people writing off the idea of getting on a plane, this gives Vermont access to the highest concentration of skiers within a drive’s distance.”

The state’s 20 alpine and 30 cross-country ski destinations were feeling optimistic, despite a warm fall that had already pushed back some area’s opening days for lack of snow.

The Inn at Manchester in southern Vermont saw a flow of cancellations after the Vermont governor announced new quarantine rules. Credit...Christine Glade Photography

Then last week, Gov. Phil Scott announced newly tightened quarantine rules for anyone visiting the state. They either had to commit to a 14-day quarantine (at home or in state), or a quarantine of seven days followed by a negative Covid-19 test.

Vermont’s travel guidelines didn’t mark that big a shift. The most significant change was that the state suspended the use of a color-coded system that assigned counties in the Northeast a color from green to red based on their number of cases of the coronavirus per million people. There was a time when a number of counties — although quite few — had virus case counts that were acceptable for travel to Vermont without quarantine. But now almost all of the Northeast was red.

But the governor’s announcement last Tuesday of virus-containment measures, combined with a huge spike in cases across the Northeast, triggered a wave of cancellations at hotels and inns and fear among tourism-dependent businesses that travelers would shun Vermont this winter because of the pandemic.

“There’s been a pretty consistent flow of cancellations since that day,” Mr. Maggioto said.

Online ski chat rooms and social media erupted with rumors and angst, including worries that ski areas might not open at all.

Among those posting was Bruce Levitus, a skier from Bucks County, Pa., who said on the Ski Vermont Facebook page that he wouldn’t be coming to the state this winter. In a phone interview, Mr. Levitus, 56, said he has been skiing in Vermont since he was 7, first with his parents and then with his own family. “I respect what Vermont is doing, but we can’t quarantine, it’s just not possible for us,” he said. “Hence we won’t be coming to Vermont for the first time in over a decade.”

The Vermont economy depends on winter ski-season visitors who spend more than $1.6 billion a year in the tiny state, according to the Vermont Ski Areas Association. Vermont is something of a crown jewel of Eastern skiing, annually recording the most skier-day numbers in the East, around 4 million per season, a figure that rivals Utah. New Hampshire, by comparison, sees a little over 2 million per winter.

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The new rules hit hard at a big market for Vermont — people who drive up for the weekend and who are unlikely to quarantine for a week for two or three days of skiing.

A number of those “weekend warriors” and their families relocated to Vermont during the pandemic, working and studying remotely from vacation homes, especially in towns around the ski centers of Stratton, Killington, Mt. Snow, Okemo, Stowe and the Mad River Valley. And some innkeepers said they hoped that a trend toward longer visits, which started this summer and fall, might continue during ski season. “We had a family here from New Jersey for over a month this fall,” said Rachel Vandenberg, the owner of the Sun and Ski Inn in Stowe.

But ski resort operators, particularly in southern Vermont, which draws more weekenders from Connecticut, New Jersey and the Albany and Long Island areas of New York than their Northern counterparts, said the quarantine will hurt.

“We’re going to feel that,” said Bill Cairns, the president of Bromley Mountain Resort.

The state’s spring pandemic lockdown closed restaurants and lodging establishments for months. The ski areas shuttered before the spring season was over, losing revenue. The combination of aggressive early shutdown measures and a deliberately slow reopening meant that Vermont came through the first wave of the pandemic better than many other places. It held cases and deaths — 59 as of earlier this week — far below those in neighboring states.

When out-of-state plates poured into Vermont at the end of the summer with the virus on the wane, businesses breathed a sigh of relief, praying the trend would hold into the winter. Stowe’s lodging occupancy rate reached a reassuring 69 percent in August, according to the Stowe Area Association, the town’s marketing organization.

But active cases spiked in late October and early November. This week the state recorded 122 cases in a single day, breaking a record previously set in April.

Vermont is hardly alone. States across American ski country are wrestling wit