The Ski Inustry

Spring skiing in 1987.Skiing in Vermont changed dramatically with the coming of the interstate highway system beginning in the 1950s. In 1947 the state had only seven major ski areas. By 1970 there were thirty-four. The state saw skiing as an opportunity for economic development, spending over $30 million in the 1950s and 1960s on the expanding industry. The impact of skiing on Vermont was uneven, but profound. It brought many benefits, such as creating jobs and providing the state with an attractive image to promote. At the same time, the rapid growth of ski towns came with clear social and environmental costs. Commercial and residential expansion created the need for more and better roads, schools, and water and sewer systems, which severely overburdened small-town budgets. Rising housing costs created by a new second-home market drove many longtime residents from their towns, increasing tensions between natives and part-time residents. The need to find a balance between desirable growth and dangerous despoilment in communities affected by skiing was a motivating force behind Vermont’s landmark environmental regulations. Towns were forced to give up some local control to the state, since they did not have the resources to solve these problems themselves.

Today Vermont has fewer ski areas, but they are bigger and usually dominate the economy of the towns where they are located. Plans for growth are expensive and cumbersome, requiring resorts to indicate how they will meet a complicated series of local, state, and federal regulations dealing with everything from water use to bear habitat. Though few want to go back to the pre-Act 250 era, the balance between economic viability and environmental preservation is a continuing political struggle.

Bromley ski area, ca. 1960.

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