Vermont, ski industry struggle to dig out from Irene’s aftermath

While much of the East Coast was breathing a sigh of relief at not having taken a bigger wallop from Hurricane Irene, landlocked Vermont was virtually underwater, suffering from 24 hours of hard rain brought by the storm. SNEWS takes a look at how the ski industry in particular is cleaning up in the aftermath.

Though some media outlets are already decrying Hurricane Irene as one of the most over-hyped events of the last decade, the landlocked state of Vermont is still struggling with clean-up efforts from the torrential rainfall brought by the storm.

More than 24 hours of straight rain resulted in record flooding throughout many Vermont towns, particularly in the southern part of the state, where bridges were washed out, towns were turned into lakes, and road closures still numbered in the dozens almost two days after the event. 

“It’s just devastating,” Gov. Peter Shumlin told the Associated Press on Aug. 29, 2011. “Whole communities under water, businesses, homes, obviously roads and bridges, rail transportation infrastructure. We’re tough folks up here, but Irene really hit us hard.”

At Killington ski area, severe flooding resulted in significant structural damage to the K-1 Lodge’s Superstar Pub, which was knocked off its foundation by the water, and roughly 300 guests and 100 employees were unable to leave the area due to road closures and power outages.

An e-mail sent Aug. 29, from the Killington Mountain School reported, “Irene slammed Vermont with mind-numbing force on Sunday, and Killington is among the areas still cut off from the state highway system. Pedestrian traffic to Rutland is possible, but vehicles are not currently allowed through. Route 100 is washed out at numerous points between Killington and Stockbridge and at numerous points further north. It is also washed out between Killington and Ludlow. Route 4 between Killington and Woodstock is treacherous at best and passage has been restricted to emergency vehicles. The Ramshead, Snowshed, and KBL base facilities at Killington received significant storm impact.” 

Though the mountains themselves seem to have escaped major damage, in the lowlands it was a different story. On Mad River Glen’s Facebook page, Marketing Director Eric Friedman wrote, “Wow Hurricane Irene really walloped our area. It looks as thought the mountain has held up pretty well but down in the valley is a whole other story. Old timers are saying it's the worst valley flooding since the epic floods of 1927 and 1938 and some are saying it is even worse. The Waitsfield covered bridge is closed and several bridges in Moretown have been lost. Our thoughts are with our neighbors down in the valley!”

George Couperthwait, president of GC3 Enterprises, Inc. and a longtime Vermont resident, told SNEWS, “We had hard rains for close to 24 hours. Rivers were much higher than I have ever seen and that combined with hard run off caused the most damage. (They are) definitely worse off in Southern Vermont. Route 2 from Richmond to Waterbury was closed the whole route. Lots of homes there are a mess.” 

Mike Aicher of Salomon Sports, who is from Vermont, cut a visit home short on Saturday so that he could fly back to Utah before the rains hit. “The better part of Southern Vermont is all in tatters,” Aicher told SNEWS. “Roads are out all over the state, and the flooding damage is unbelievable. Quechee, Woodstock, Bethel, Rutland, Brandon, Ludlow all have significant portions that were underwater.”

Gary Fleming, marketing director of Elan Skis, who lives in Quechee confirmed in a short e-mail to SNEWS that, “the Quechee bridges are almost gone. It’s a disaster in a lot of places.” 

Even in Maine, the Sugarloaf Ski Area reported receiving 8.5 inches of rain in the wake of Hurricane Irene. In a press release, the area reported that, “Although the majority of Sugarloaf Mountain Resort’s grounds were not affected, several pieces of state-owned infrastructure were damaged causing some disruption to normal business activities at the resort.”

And in New Hampshire, a press release from Attitash Mountain stated that, “Following Monday’s post-Irene period of damage assessment and cleaning up, Wildcat Mountain will re-open today, Tuesday August 30 and Attitash Mountain Resort will re-open at 10 a.m. Wednesday, August 31.” 

--Peter Kray

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