An Update on Snowmaking, Slide Brook, and Uphill Travel

What a turnaround we’ve seen since MLK. Since snow started falling that Monday, we’ve seen a total of 26″ in the past 10 days. It’s made a real difference. We now have 100% of our terrain open and it’s all skiing excellent. We haven’t really seen conditions like this since last February (if you recall March was quite dry). Unfortunately it looks like this weekend’s storm is continuing to trend away from us. But there is still some snow potential in the forecast over the next week or so that could continue to help us refresh conditions.

While the skiing has been excellent, there are a couple of topics I want to shed some light on, as we’ve been seeing a lot of inquiries about them: Lincoln Peak snowmaking, the Slide Brook Express Quad, and how Uphill Travel has been since our brief suspension.

Lincoln Peak Snowmaking

As anyone who has skied in the last 2 weeks can attest, it’s been particularly cold this month. Looking at our internal weather recordings, the summit hasn’t been above freezing since January 2nd. The base has barely been above freezing 5 times (and even then no higher than 35 degrees for no more than a day at a time). We seem to have avoided a January thaw this year.

While as skiers we would normally say that’s great, it has unfortunately had an effect on our water supply. The extreme cold has significantly slowed down the recharge rate of our water sources. Our Lincoln Peak snowmaking pond down near Rt. 100, our main source of water on that side, is essentially tapped out. We’re only allowed to draw the pond down to a certain level, at which point we rely on the Mad River to refill it over time. But that’s been progressing slowly through this cold, and also pretty dry, month. As a point of reference, we were able to make snow on Snowball, Lower Snowball, and Racer’s Edge yesterday. It took about 10 days to get enough water to be able to run those guns for just 18 hours or so.

Long story short is that we’d love to make more snow, we’ve just been limited by our water supply. The combination of dry and cold has taken it’s toll. We’re hopeful we can continue to touch up some of the Lincoln Peak trails and build up spring depths a little more, but we’ll see how things go. For what it’s worth, Mt. Ellen’s water supply is still solid, which is why you’ve probably seen more consistent snowmaking over there over the last few weeks. While we have less overall capacity on that side, the supply is in better shape.

Slide Brook Express Quad

Now that both mountains are fully open we’ve been getting a lot of inquiries as to when the Slide Brook Express Quad could potentially open. From a snow depth standpoint, we’re still not quite there. As you’ve likely heard before, we can’t operate that lift until there’s enough snow throughout the work roads in Slide Brook and under the lift to safely get vehicles in and out of there to check lines, perform maintenance, and even evacuate the lift if necessary.

However, the reality is at this point we’re not optimistic that Slide Brook will spin this year. The main reason for this is predominantly staffing. Unfortunately, both our lift mechanic and lift operations teams are already stretched pretty thin operating and maintaining all of our other lifts at both mountains. And when it comes to prioritizing, we want to be able to operate the lifts that can access new terrain (and also accommodate all abilities), so we believe it makes sense to focus on the lifts we have running, rather than trading one of them for Slide Brook.

So then perhaps your follow-up question is why this wasn’t shared sooner. Well it was our hope that our staffing levels would be in a better place at this point. We just haven’t managed to quite get there. It’s an industry wide trend. In fact, the New York Times just ran an informative piece yesterday about the struggles with staffing in the ski industry. It’s worth the read. We’ve certainly been doing everything we can to attract workers. We raised our minimum wage to $15/hr this past summer, we’ve been expanding employee benefits, and we even transformed the Sugarbush Inn into employee housing to add to the housing we already have, which was no easy feat.

We’re not saying there’s zero chance of Slide Brook spinning, but at this point we should all expect that it’s pretty unlikely. If things change, we will of course update everyone immediately. I think this is also a good time to give a virtual round of applause to our current mountain operations team. They’ve all been working hard to keep things running even while understaffed. These men and women really care about the product we’re putting out. Please give them your thanks next time you run into one of them.

Uphill Travel

I also wanted to provide a quick update on uphill travel after last week’s brief suspension of the policy. If you’re interested in this topic, I’d recommend reading last week’s blog post.

Since last week we’ve been impressed with the improvement of behavior on the mountain. We have all of you to thank for that. So far things have been running smoothly. If we can continue to educate each other and hold each other accountable, we should be in a good place moving forward.

We also decided to make a change to the policy to help eliminate confusion and provide you with more options. Both Which Way and Northstar are now viable downhill routes at Mt. Ellen. These trails are not affected by winching operations on Cliffs either. Additionally, we have also made a new Facebook group called Sugarbush Uphill Travel Community. If you’re interested in uphill travel here, I encourage you to join it. We will be posting operational updates there alongside the snow report. We hope this will be a helpful forum for questions and a place to share stoke with each other.