Thursday, January 8, 2009

U.S. Ski Resorts Tally Up Solid Holiday Visitation

Reports recently released from U.S. ski areas confirm what a previous study indicated: that skiers and snowboarders continue to hit the slopes in strong numbers despite current economic conditions. According to the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA), a random survey of several dozen ski areas nationwide revealed that skiers and riders showed up in numbers similar to last season’s Holiday period, and in some cases, in record numbers. Some resorts are reporting visits up 40 percent over last year’s Christmas Holiday period.
Weather clearly seems to be a determinant, as some regions experienced challenging weather conditions during Christmas weekend, and as a result, report soft visitation. However, once conditions turned more favorable, skiers and riders came out in force. In the East, Massachusetts’ Jiminy Peak and Wachusett Mountain and New York’s Holiday Valley all report above average visitation figures. Jiminy says its overall visits are up 4 percent over last year, while Wachusett and Holiday Valley say visits are above their 5-year averages, up 12 percent and 35 percent respectively. Vermont’s Okemo Resort said its visits were up 7 percent over the same time period last season, and up 6 percent over its five-year average. In New Hampshire, Loon Mountain reports its visits were on par with last season, despite difficult weather events during Christmas.
In the South, Sugar Mountain, N.C., reports holiday visits up more than 40 percent over last year. In Minnesota, Welch Village reports that while post-Christmas visits were down from last year, the resort still experienced its third best Holiday period and set a new record for visits on Jan. 1.
Visits also appear to be strong in the West, with Colorado’s Arapahoe Basin, Powderhorn and Winter Park all reporting record-setting days. Vail Resorts, owner of Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Vail Mountain, and California’s Heavenly Resort, said it planned to release visitation numbers later in the week. In Utah, Park City reports visits tracked on pace with last year, thanks in part to its accessibility to an international airport. In California, Mountain High, just outside of L.A., reports visits up more than 40 percent over last year. Meanwhile Mammoth Mountain reports that while it went into the Holiday period behind last year’s figures, it finished December up 1 percent over the previous season.
This fall reported season pass sales across the nation were at record levels, while advance hotel bookings were reportedly soft for some destination resorts. But where there was early snow, resorts are reporting that skiers are coming out at, or in higher numbers than last year and above the 10 year average thus far.
An October survey of a national sampling of skiers and snowboarders showed that the total number of days they intended to hits the slopes tracked on pace with last year across every region of the country. More than half of surveyed consumers said they will seek out destinations closer to home. About 50 percent also indicated they will seek out more affordable lodging options and reduce the amount they spend on food and beverage during their trips. Many skiers and riders indicate they may shave off a day or two from their longest overnight skiing/snowboarding trip. Last year the U.S. ski industry set an all-time record 60.5 million skier and rider visits.