STRATTON -- It's been nearly two weeks since Burton announced it was moving the state's biggest ski and snowboard competition to Colorado, and business owners and residents are just beginning to come to terms with what it will mean to the area next spring.
For many people the U.S. Open, which had been held during the second or third week in March in Vermont for 30 years, most of that time at Stratton Mountain, signaled the end of the winter season. It also extended the season past the President's Day weekend and brought customers to the area during a typically slower time for businesses.
Now that the competition has officially been moved to Vail, Colo., some business owners are left wondering what that time will look like and how they'll recoup the loss.
Jeff Gaudet, general manager of the Stone's Lodge and Fat Spy Tavern, said he's seen what a difference the event made.
In 2010 and 2011, Vermont saw one of the best and worst snow seasons in more than half a century, he said. So as much of the area was still recovering from the damage caused by Tropical Storm Irene last August and trying to make ends meets in February and March, the U.S. Open came to the rescue.
"From Thursday to Saturday we did a month's worth of business," Gaudet said of the event. "I don't know what we'll do this year. We're just praying for snow this year."
Stratton Spokeswoman Myra Foster said the loss of the event isn't all doom and gloom
Foster said she and other Stratton officials have been working with numerous event managers to bring other types of activities to the mountain during "non-peak seasons."
"We're looking at opportunities to bring in crowds during quiet times for the mountain, like in October or mid-May when the resort isn't as busy," she said. "It'll have a far greater impact on the resort, the region and the state."
To replace something iconic like the Open may take more than a concert or athletic competition, however.
At Mount Snow, which had hosted one of the Dew Sports Tour stops before organizers abruptly moved to Killington in 2010, organizers have tried to replicate the mass influx of people with Tough Mudder events.
While business owners in the Deerfield Valley are grateful for the thousands of people who showed up in May and July this year, profits weren't as high as during the Dew Tour.
Joe Kruszwski and his wife Wanda, who own the Matterhorn Inn along Route 100, typically spend their summer tending to the needs of 10 or 20 guests at a time and don't need to hire additional help until the snow begins to fall.
But when more than 20,000 people showed up for the July Tough Mudder, the Kruszwskis were trying to help people find rooms in towns as far as Bennington, Stratton, Manchester, Brattleboro and Greenfield, Mass., for one or two nights.
The Dew Tour, however, had brought people to stay in the area for three or four nights during a time when the Matterhorn was already fully staffed and better prepared to handle the crowds, he said.
There was a hidden advantage, Kruszwski said, something other mountains are hoping to repeat.
"A lot of guests said they wouldn't have ever come up here during the summer," he said. "There were a lot of people who were shocked to learn how much this area has to offer in the summer. Someone even said, ‘I didn't even know you were open during the summer.' So we hope they keep bringing back the mudders."
Foster said southern Vermont has a lot to offer people looking for something to do during the summer.
Starting on Wednesday, Aug. 15, Stratton Mountain will host the start of the Vermont Challenge, a series of three different bike tours.
"We're sad to see it go on many levels, but we're so proud the role that Stratton and the U.S. Open has played in the growth of snowboarding," Foster said. "The event is moving but the roots of the sport remain. The spirit of snowboarding lives on here."
Although Foster is confident the loss of the Open won't dramatically affect the resort, there are others in the hospitality industry that aren't so certain.
Many managers and business owners at the base of the mountain declined to comment on the situation; but one, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of backlash, said losing the event will undoubtedly force several businesses to close.
"It's devastating," the source said. "The Open was like Christmas weekend. Instead of having 90 to 95 percent of places booked in March it's going to drop to 10 or 15 percent."
According to the source, who has worked on the mountain for more than two decades, during the event Burton employees themselves would occupy half of the resort's lodging. Now those reservations, corporate credit cards and impulse purchases will all go to Colorado.
"Money always flowed easier during the Open," the source said. "Losing it could be the final straw for a lot of businesses up here. Times are already tough and our rent doesn't get any cheaper."
There are business owners, mostly those along Route 30 stretching from Winhall to Jamaica, who said they don't think they'll be that affected.
Jon Woodell, manager of Mtn. Riders, a ski, snowboard and mountain bike shop near Stratton's main entrance, said the loss of the U.S. Open won't hurt the business that much.
"It was definitely an influx of business for us but mostly small stuff like T-shirts and stickers," Woodell said. "People were coming to see the event, not to buy new boards or jackets."
Larry Lamb, manager of Tony's Pizza, also along Route 30, said he didn't think the business would be hurt that much because the majority of food purchased was through vendors at the mountain, not in the towns below.
"We really only got people on the way in and the way out," he said. "We got a lot more people during Wanderlust and when Mount Snow held their Tough Mudder events."
Foster said that's exactly the reaction she's hoping for as Stratton attempts to bring in more events, like Wanderlust, a four-day yoga and music festival.
"There's a whole world of things to do up here besides winter events," she said. "We just need to help people get here to enjoy them."
Josh Stilts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311 ext. 273.