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The US ski industry suffers its second worst winter in 15 years according to National Ski Areas Association

post #1 of 26
Thread Starter 

Every region in the USA, despite record ski visits in Vermont, had fewer skier visits according to the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA). Not surprisingly, NSAA attributes the decrease to a lack of snow nationwide with the exception of the Northeast. There, the difficulty in reaching ski resorts during periods of heavy snowfall was cited for the decline in regional numbers with Vermont being the only state in that region to  actually experience an increase in skier visits.

 

The article says that ski resorts are going to have to rely "more and more on snowmaking" and hoping for the El Nino that has developed to be a strong one followed by a strong La Nina.

The NSSA story contains a fair amount of facts and information on prior snow records, season pass sales, destination visitor numbers and such. http://snowbrains.com/skier-visits-down-in-us-this-season/

post #2 of 26

My season snowfall chart has a column weighting ski regions (defined by geography and similar lift-served ski acreage) equally and also by skier visits.

 

Weighting by skier visits made 2011-12 look worse but 2014-15 look better relative to equal region weighting because the most visited regions of the Northeast and Front Range Colorado were the worst regions in 2011-12 but the best in 2014-15.   Even with skier visit weighting 2014-15 is essentially tied for worst snowfall season on record though.

 

The missing factor in both the SnowBrains article and my chart above is incidence of snowfall.   Extreme drought in the early season like 2011-12 is a more severe depressant of skier visits than mid-winter drought like 2014-15. 

post #3 of 26

Hey Ski Industry, have you ever stopped to think that you've raised your prices so high that you've priced most families out of skiing? Now might be a good time to try to woo them back. Lower your damned prices.

post #4 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Winski View Post
 

Hey Ski Industry, have you ever stopped to think that you've raised your prices so high that you've priced most families out of skiing? Now might be a good time to try to woo them back. Lower your damned prices.


I agree, but I don't see it happening anytime soon.  There is too much money to be made by charging higher fees to the fewer wealthy.  It will be a while until the bigger piece of a shrinking pie reaches its limit.

post #5 of 26

I really don't think any ski area makes money off the lift ticket.  Sure you throw in services, and property income and there probably are a bunch making money, but off the mountain alone I would be very surprised if any are in the black,  Between infrastructure, personal, energy costs, and debt, skiing is a very expensive sport.  In my neck of the woods there are plenty of smaller ski areas that are relatively inexpensive. 

post #6 of 26

Most of the skiing public does most of its skiing during the Xmas holidays. It has been my observation over the years that if it is a poor start to the winter with so so conditions at Xmas, then they decide it is a poor snow year and then tell all their friends when they get back home and they reduce or eliminate subsequent ski trips. It almost doesn't matter what the weather in the mountains is like for Jan. and Feb. The reverse is true if there are piles of snow everywhere and frequent snowfalls during the Xmas holidays.

 

My home mountain, Sun Peaks, usually gets less snow than many of its competitors, so for the past twenty years they have had an annual summer grooming crew. They have systematically gone around the mountain, run by run, pulling stumps, picking rocks, planting grass and in some cases reshaping runs. Currently the summer crews cut weeds and small conifers and plant grass in places and do some tree thinning in forested areas. This program pays huge dividends every winter and along with a small amount of snow making allows SP to usually be the first of the B.C. Interior resorts to open.

 

Other ski resorts, regardless of their average annual snowfalls, would be wise to follow Sun Peaks' summer grooming lead.

post #7 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Winski View Post
 

Hey Ski Industry, have you ever stopped to think that you've raised your prices so high that you've priced most families out of skiing? Now might be a good time to try to woo them back. Lower your damned prices.

Plenty of deals to be had if you do a little planning ahead. Only fools pay the walk up window rate.

post #8 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Winski View Post
 

Hey Ski Industry, have you ever stopped to think that you've raised your prices so high that you've priced most families out of skiing? Now might be a good time to try to woo them back. Lower your damned prices.


Ski areas keep closing for financial reasons, with some closing or selling due to having no reserves for improvements or even lift replacement.  If anything, the biggest operator of ski resorts in the USA is lowering the price to ski, so long as you can ski for an entire week and make the pass worthwhile. I agree, the industry is terrible about getting new skiers and keeping them. Remember, skiing is small and is no longer seen as "exotic" as it was during the growth phase starting after WWII. Now there are many more athletic and entertainment options for kids and families. How small in relation to other sports? Renaldo and Messi each earn more than the net from Vail Resorts. If my kids had the choice of skiing for a week next winter or attending a video game conference, they would easily choose the latter. Fortunately, my family is not run as a democracy.

post #9 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by steamboat1 View Post
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Winski View Post
 

Hey Ski Industry, have you ever stopped to think that you've raised your prices so high that you've priced most families out of skiing? Now might be a good time to try to woo them back. Lower your damned prices.

Plenty of deals to be had if you do a little planning ahead. Only fools pay the walk up window rate.


And nobody want's to be a fool, so unless you already know where to get a deal, you aren't going to go skiing.  Committed skiers already "in"  know where to get the deals and/or are ready to buy a season's pass.  Potential skiers don't. No new blood.  Too expensive for families/newbies to explore.  If nobody pays the window ticket rate, they won't lose much by lowering it to attract new skiers.


Edited by Ghost - 6/27/15 at 9:14am
post #10 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by steamboat1 View Post
 
 

Plenty of deals to be had if you do a little planning ahead. Only fools pay the walk up window rate.

 

This may be true for the destination resort industry, but for at least some of the small places there is no other rate for a day ticket than the walk-up one, and a season pass is way too expensive for the average Joe/Jane.

post #11 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Maineac View Post

I really don't think any ski area makes money off the lift ticket.  Sure you throw in services, and property income and there probably are a bunch making money, but off the mountain alone I would be very surprised if any are in the black,  Between infrastructure, personal, energy costs, and debt, skiing is a very expensive sport.  In my neck of the woods there are plenty of smaller ski areas that are relatively inexpensive. 

If this were the case, every ski area in WA would close. Very very limited development in the PNW. Crystal is something like 66-70 for a day pass at full walk up window price... much less than many areas with land development.
post #12 of 26

I've yet to pay $50 for a lift ticket. My most expensive ticket last year was at Stowe ($44 for ski club appreciation days). Did that a couple of times. Their everyday walk up rate was $103 + $5 for their RFID card if you didn't already have one. Skied there a couple of other days using a VT. Pass for $42. Used these same deals at other areas in VT. for the same or less money. MRG for $25 was a pretty good deal also. My season pass for Killington came out to $17 per day last season up from $14 the previous year. Didn't ski as many days on the pass. I wouldn't call that expensive. As for small areas skied one day spur of the moment at Catamount on the NY/MA border with my daughter. Payed $40 with a discount coupon from Potter Bros.I bought the same day I skied, regular rate was $60. Not much planning ahead involved there. They also offer discounts to other small & not so small areas you can pick up the same morning you plan to ski. Then there's Liftopia which I've yet to use. Plenty of other discount cards you can buy if you plan ahead a little. But I agree most newbies either don't know or don't take advantage of these deals.


Edited by steamboat1 - 6/27/15 at 9:51am
post #13 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by markojp View Post


If this were the case, every ski area in WA would close. Very very limited development in the PNW. Crystal is something like 66-70 for a day pass at full walk up window price... much less than many areas with land development.

I have only seen the financials on some local hills and I should stress that I am guessing.  Still, if you subtract the profit from ski instruction (this should be an in the black line for every ski area or they are doing it wrong) income lease agreements for bars, food service, equipment shops etc., and other revenue streams beyond ticket sales I would be surprised if they ended in the black.  Then again I know very little so perhaps I should not be so surprised.

post #14 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by steamboat1 View Post
 

I've yet to pay $50 for a lift ticket. My most expensive ticket last year was at Stowe ($44 for ski club appreciation days). Did that a couple of times. Their everyday walk up rate was $103 + $5 for their RFID card if you didn't already have one. Skied there a couple of other days using a VT. Pass for $42. Used these same deals at other areas in VT. for the same or less money. MRG for $25 was a pretty good deal also. My season pass for Killington came out to $17 per day last season up from $14 the previous year. Didn't ski as many days on the pass. I wouldn't call that expensive. As for small areas skied one day spur of the moment at Catamount on the NY/MA border with my daughter. Payed $40 with a discount coupon from Potter Bros.I bought the same day I skied, regular rate was $60. Not much planning ahead involved there. They also offer discounts to other small & not so small areas you can pick up the same morning you plan to ski. Then there's Liftopia which I've yet to use. Plenty of other discount cards you can buy if you plan ahead a little. But I agree most newbies either don't know or don't take advantage of these deals.


That's great for you, but if you come to Washington you won't get those kind of deals.  You might get a couple of bucks off if you buy your ticket online, and there are some ways to buy tickets at a discount (only at some places) if you buy a card meant for frequent visitors, and there are some inexpensive season pass deals if you can ski on the weekdays only, but that's it.  At Mt. Baker there are no deals for anyone, ever.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Maineac View Post
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by markojp View Post


If this were the case, every ski area in WA would close. Very very limited development in the PNW. Crystal is something like 66-70 for a day pass at full walk up window price... much less than many areas with land development.

I have only seen the financials on some local hills and I should stress that I am guessing.  Still, if you subtract the profit from ski instruction (this should be an in the black line for every ski area or they are doing it wrong) income lease agreements for bars, food service, equipment shops etc., and other revenue streams beyond ticket sales I would be surprised if they ended in the black.  Then again I know very little so perhaps I should not be so surprised.

 

I can categorically vouch for the fact that Mt. Baker makes quite a lot of money and is always in the black.  They have a small ski school and income from their cafeterias and ski shop (such as it is) but there is no other source of income.  They have successfully replaced or constructed all eight of their chairs and built a lodge over a 20 year span, all for cash.

 

If a place keeps it's expenses down (no snow making, and little grooming) it can haul it in given the right circumstances.

post #15 of 26
Per Whitefish, they have substantially paid down their debt as of a few years back. I know every department has to justify its existence and they stated their money is from operations. They have now got a pretty heavy summer presence with mountain biking and zip lines, so that has helped.
Edited by sibhusky - 6/27/15 at 10:35am
post #16 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ghost View Post
 


And nobody want's to be a fool, so unless you already know where to get a deal, you aren't going to go skiing.  Committed skiers already "in"  know where to get the deals and/or are ready to buy a season's pass.  Potential skiers don't. No new blood.  Too expensive for families/newbies to explore.  If nobody pays the window ticket rate, they won't lose much by lowering it to attract new skiers.


I guess in general this is true.  Take Copper for instance.  They have a really phenomenal program to get new skiers in.  Hard to beat 3 days of lessons, lunch, parking, and a season's pass for $199.  Then there is the additional "discounts" that come with it.  Who knows about it?  I never see it advertised here in CO.  Instead we get bombarded with endless Epic whatever commercials.

post #17 of 26

Appreciate the replies-and it is good to know skiing can stand on its own.  Guess my regional bias is coloring my view.

post #18 of 26

http://www.sugarbush.com/ski-ride-school/first-timer-lessons

 

After completion of the course it includes a season pass also.

post #19 of 26

Not a bad deal either at Killington. After completion you get either free skis or snowboard & 50% off lift tickets and/or lesson for the remainder of the season & next season..

 

 

 

DISCOVERY 4-DAY LEARN TO PROGRAMS, $299

FEATURING FREE ELAN SKIS OR A FREE BURTON SNOWBOARD

 

This unique 4-day program offers first-timers ages 18+ everything they need to get comfortable on snow while exploring our dedicated learning terrain and expanding their skills.

Plus, discover more potential when we hand you brand new gear on your fourth day that is yours to keep - FREE!

 

 


PROGRAM INCLUDES:

  • Four 2-hour lessons, four days of rental equipment and a 4-day lift ticket (days one and two are limited to learning area only; days three and four are full mountain access).
    • Lessons do not need to be consecutive but need to be completed by the end of the 2014-15 season
  • On your fourth day of lessons, we'll be handing over a brand new pair of Elan skis/bindings* or free Burton snowboard/bindings* - FREE!
    • Your instructor will give you some pointers on how to make the most of your new gear that day and beyond. 
  • 50% off lift tickets and lessons for the remainder of the 2014-15 and 2015-16 winter seasons.
post #20 of 26

Looking at the NSAA press release puts the regional numbers in context better.  Obviously the regions that had usually low snow did very poorly.  Comparisons to the 5-year average makes more sense than just comparing to the previous season.  Interesting to me that the number of visits to the U.S. from other countries is on the rise.  Presumably Vail and the MCP folks are well aware of that trend with the addition of ski resorts in Australia to their respective lists.

 

* * *

 

In the 24 seasons of available NSAA’s Kottke End of Season Survey data (1991-92 to 2014-15), this season is estimated to have had the lowest snowfall on record for half the country (the Pacific Southwest, Pacific Northwest, and Rocky Mountain regions), and the second-lowest snowfall overall in the past quarter-century. By contrast, snowfall was slightly above average in the Northeast and Southeast regions. 

 

From a long-term view, while 2014-15 was challenging for the Pacific Southwest and Pacific Northwest, other regions had relatively average, or above-average, seasons. The Rocky Mountain region enjoyed its sixth-best season on record, whereas the Southeast region had its 10th best season in the last quarter century. 

 

Placed in context, 2014-15 skier visits nationally were up 5.1 percent from a recent low of 51 million visits in 2011-12, and down 11.5 percent from the industry’s record high of 60.5 million visits from the 2010-11 season.

 

 

 

* * *

post #21 of 26

Year to year fluctuations are mostly about snow.  It's not an accident that the record high skier visit seasons were 2007-08 and 2010-11. 

Quote:
It has been my observation over the years that if it is a poor start to the winter with so so conditions at Xmas, then they decide it is a poor snow year and then tell all their friends when they get back home and they reduce or eliminate subsequent ski trips. It almost doesn't matter what the weather in the mountains is like for Jan. and Feb. The reverse is true if there are piles of snow everywhere and frequent snowfalls during the Xmas holidays.

There is some truth to this and it's a big part of the reason 2001-12 is the low attendance outlier of recent seasons rather than the worse overall snow year of 2014-15.  Mammoth's season attendance correlates slightly higher to Nov+Dec snowfall than it does to snowfall for the entire season.  Rusty Gregory at Mammoth blamed depressed attendance in 2011-12 at Mammoth on the widespread negative publicity about that season in the national media.  And of course for most of the national media the sun rises in New England and sets in Colorado as far as skiing is concerned. No matter to them that skiing was quite good at Mammoth from late January onwards or in the PNW and western Canada for the entire 2011-12 season.

 

Ski areas need to analyzed individually for drivers of attendance.  Destination areas are less sensitive to year-to-year snow fluctuations and attendance is based upon the broad range of factors that affect advance purchase decisions.  I have to believe that advance purchase visitation to Tahoe is being eroded by the cumulative snow record of the past 4 seasons.  Mammoth's market is 95% drive-up, so yes it may drop more during the bad seasons, but I expect it will also recover promptly when the snow is good, as it did with the strong early season in 2012-13. 

Quote:
Other ski resorts, regardless of their average annual snowfalls, would be wise to follow Sun Peaks' summer grooming lead.

That's a very limited option at steep and rocky mountains like Squaw, Taos, Crested Butte and Snowbird. 

 

The rest of this thread has been about the long term growth of skier visits and covers the same ground as numerous other threads.  You need to look at the long term trend over decades to get rid of the short term noise created by good/bad snow years.  The trend of the past 15 years was mildly increasing as the Millennials entered their prime skier demographic years. That trend would have shown a steeper increase if not for the cost/alternative recreation factors cited in this thread and elsewhere. The next generation is somewhat smaller so the immediate future trend is likely to be flat, with US skier visits in the 57-58 million range in average snow years.  Increased international visits might bump that up a little bit.

post #22 of 26

Great program steamboat1 to entice new skiers, what it still misses is the long time skiers that ski less because of the lift cost.

 

A local hill in southern Ontario Canada, has a 50 for $5 deal.  The year you turn 50 your ski anytime seasons pass is $5 dollars.  If you've signed up for the this deal during your fiftieth year your almost ski anytime passes are $50 each year there after (anytime except for Sat and Sunday daytime hours January and February).  I can also bring one guest during the weekdays for 1/2 price.

 

Is this a great monster hill no, but its a small family hill with fair runs that is not over run.  Nothing fancy, just good clean inexpensive skiing.

 

The advantage of this program is I take someone(s) that don't ski a lot I go there and I still get vertical time in small snippets  (there most difficult slopes (easy in my eyes) all me to work on technique for perfection as gravity is not there to hide mistakes).  The resort gets skiers that come for few hours and bring guests and increase their traffic.  Win. Win.

 

My understanding is that they've been doing this for over 50 years already.

 

While I like better (difficult and longer) runs for a $80-100++ an outing per person it's just not in the picture on a regular basis.

post #23 of 26
People's perception of lack of snow has to do with when they hear news. They hear one report then extapolate. I had people on the chairlift telling me how incredibly bad it was in Colorado in March. That was a week after I'd come back from Aspen and Steamboat. They wouldn't believe me that it was actually really good. Conversely, I heard second hand reports about how good it was in Tahoe. That was the strangest. I just let that one go.
post #24 of 26

What kind of impact will water restrictions have on snow making in California?  I assume that most resorts have some kind of water right to utilize collection ponds to feed snow guns but what if those ponds are empty?

post #25 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by crgildart View Post
 

What kind of impact will water restrictions have on snow making in California?  I assume that most resorts have some kind of water right to utilize collection ponds to feed snow guns but what if those ponds are empty?


You need a real expert to answer that since it seems to differ with each resort, those with USFS leases, etc. For example, Dodge Ridge has no ponds and, therefore, no snowmaking. Heavenly has (I think) two reservoirs with over 550mm gallons. In theory a lot of the water runs off the mountains back to the source, but that can't be true in practice with all resorts, at least not in a drought. Heavenly files an annual Mitigation and Monitoring plan that gives some clues to the issues with water.  Perhaps Tony Crocker knows where there is reliable information.  See: http://www.trpa.org/wp-content/uploads/Heavenly_Mitigation-and-Monitoring-Plan-Annual-Report-Revised-June-3-2014_Report-Appendicies.pdf  If a snow gun cranks out 3000 gallons of water per hour, and a resort has hundreds of them (or more), that is a lot of water being sprayed during droughts.

post #26 of 26
Quote:
What kind of impact will water restrictions have on snow making in California?

I'm sure the circumstances vary by resort.  I have not heard about Big Bear ever being restricted for snowmaking. The 2013-14 season was exceptionally dry in SoCal but so were 2001-02 and 2006-07.  Big Bear has 420 acres, averages maybe 6 feet natural snow (it's probably less than 3 feet in those bad years) and is every bit as dependent upon manmade as some of the eastern and Midwest places.  The water for snowmaking is pumped from and presumably drains back into Big Bear Lake.   I'm sure the amount of water needed to cover and maintain 420 acres from late December to early April is immense.  Therefore I suspect most of it does end up back in the lake or they would have been restricted after the past 4 years.

 

Big Bear may sound like a pipsqueak resort but it sees 800K skier visits in an average season.   Also Heavenly may claim largest snowmaking system in the West but I doubt they have much more than 500 acres under snowmaking.   I know Mammoth's limit is about 500 acres.  So the reality is that Big Bear's system is one of the largest; it's just 100% of a smaller mountain vs. 15-20% of a big one. 

 

To the extent places like Mammoth and Heavenly are drilling wells and pumping groundwater that is not very much regulated in California vs. stream flow and reservoirs.  There's big problem of excessive aquifer depletion under the Central Valley and the first proposals to regulate that only happened last summer.

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