Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Logo of The Middlebury Campus
Wednesday, Dec 6, 2023

The frustrating reality of winter in New England

Snowmaking guns fire up at the Middlebury Snowbowl, which faced unseasonably warm weather and low snowfall early this winter
Snowmaking guns fire up at the Middlebury Snowbowl, which faced unseasonably warm weather and low snowfall early this winter

During our years at Middlebury, many of us have grown accustomed to Vermont’s famously harsh winter conditions. Whether you’re a hardened New England native or a sun-tanned California beach-goer, we’ve all learned to cope with howling wind, sub-zero temps and every variety of frozen precipitation imaginable. This year, however, was a different story: temperatures soared into the 50s throughout December and January, a welcome change for many students and longtime Vermonters alike.

However, not everybody was thrilled about the milder temps. Ski resorts across Vermont battled the warmest January on record, as warm, sunny weather and frequent rain storms decimated their existing snow base. “This year was undeniably a slow start,” said Mike Hussey, who is currently serving his fifth season as Director of the Middlebury Snowbowl. Thanks to its robust snowmaking infrastructure, the Snowbowl was able to run lifts throughout an unpredictable early season, but struggled to maintain favorable conditions throughout the winter months.

In a stark contrast to the early-season snow drought, March tipped the snowfall scales back to average. After three consecutive storms brought record-breaking levels of heavy snow, Vermont is back to within inches of its historical mean annual snowfall levels. On March 13, a nor’easter dropped over three feet of snow in some Vermont towns, according to the VTDigger, much to the relief of mountain workers, avid skiers and winter fanatics alike.

These erratic winter conditions are nothing unusual. Growing up in New Hampshire, the unpredictability of winter was something I became familiar with; the inevitable seesaw between “seasonable” and “unseasonable” was all but guaranteed. With astounding frequency, casual conversations center around the weather — from gas stations to grocery stores, a chorus of climate-related remarks (e.g., “How ‘bout this weather?”) reverberate across the state for most of the year. At the very least, the fickle conditions give us New Englanders plenty to talk about.

As a lifelong winter enthusiast, I have my fair share of memories stemming from unseasonable weather: in October 2012, I vividly remember waking up on Halloween to find a foot of snow blanketing the landscape beyond my bedroom window. Later that night, my 7th grade companions and I spent all night traipsing through the snowbanks, building snow forts and partaking in endless rounds of block-wide snowball fights. At school the next day, the teacher inquired as to why so many of us sported bandages across our noses and cheeks. “Battle scars,” we explained, reveling in the previous night’s events like Achaean warriors.  

Years later, while deep into a mid-winter drought, my high school Nordic team reconciled with the opposite end of winter’s volatility. Facing a critical lack of snowfall, we incorporated several new exercises into our training regimen: hopping over dirt patches, dodging corn stalks peeking through the snow or even running miles in plastic-soled Nordic boots, skis in hand, seeking terrain with appropriate snow cover. 

Our coach, looking to make the most of these unseasonable conditions, would dedicate one day a week to “adventure runs,” a term he coined for muddy, wet cross-country adventures traveling through the woods adjacent to our training grounds. These outings included several river crossings, during which a good chunk of our team (myself included) was swept hundreds of feet down shore by the raging current. I can’t say the school was particularly fond of our training style, but man was it fun.

This winter at the Snowbowl has been unpredictable, to say the least. But that’s all part of the fun in East Coast winter recreation; rain or shine, skiers continue to flock to mountain destinations, despite subpar conditions. If anything, the lack of early season snowfall has made these surprisingly auspicious March conditions all the more exciting.

So what will next year bring? Personally, I’m casting my vote for another unusually warm season with little to no snowfall, and preferably a handful of rainy days thrown in the mix. While my inner ski bum cringes at this utterance, I’d be foolish not to give Mother Nature a chance at proving me wrong. Your move, ma’am.