Lake Tahoe, western tourism: 2015-16 winter a ‘dramatic improvement’ |

Lake Tahoe, western tourism: 2015-16 winter a ‘dramatic improvement’

Sebastian Foltz
A Nordic skier takes in an overlook of Lake Tahoe.
Courtesy Will Hart / Tahoe South |

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — With the winter season drawing to a close, all indications point to it having been a strong one across the West.

From snow totals to lodging numbers, it was especially positive at far western destinations from California to British Columbia. Even average snowfall was a welcome change following four drought-impacted seasons, and it was reflected in destination visits.

“It’s clearly a dramatic improvement over last year,” said Tom Foley, director of operations for the Denver-based resort marketing research firm DestiMetrics.

The consulting group announced this week that March showed a 5.2 percent increase in lodging occupancy across the West when compared to the previous year.

“The upside is summer season isn’t dependent on snow. A lot of things are being added to calendars. (Resorts) are taking this summer mountain travel business and growing it really dramatically.”Tom FoleyDirector of operations for DestiMetrics

Farther west, destinations indicated a much stronger variation, with occupancy up a striking 25.6 percent over March of 2015.

“Last year was dismal,” Foley said, describing the reason for the jump from 2014-15 to this winter. When compared to normal snow years, Foley said lodging numbers this winter were still positive and close to average.

“It’s a fairly good year. It looked much more like a normal year,” he said.

Describing the impact of consistent snow, he added, “Vastly improved snowfall this season will deliver many resorts their best season in several years.”


What the lodging numbers mean for skier visits is unclear. Vail Resorts and other ski areas typically don’t report skier visits to media; and data from the National Ski Area Association, to which resorts report, won’t be available until later this year.

DestiMetrics officials said it would be safe to infer strong numbers based on lodging data. That data, however, fails to capture daily visits from non-overnight regional guests. It also doesn’t account for how many guests are staying in a single unit.

“We expect the gains to be more significant in skier visits based on the late-season participation of local season passes, second homeowners and nearby in-state visitors,” DestiMetrics director Ralf Garrison said, describing regional visitors’ tendency to make plans based on existing snow conditions.

Foley added that if April numbers continue at their current pace, this winter season could come close to a record year across the West in terms of occupancy and revenue.

Snow conditions farther west also allowed for lodging areas to increase revenues through higher rates based on demand, according to Foley.

Some areas even showed as much as a 66 percent revenue increase in March over last year.


Taking an early look at the summer season, DestiMetrics also reported strong indications for reservations moving forward. As of March 31, May through October’s advanced reservations were up 12.7 percent over last year.

Foley cited conscious marketing efforts by mountain-town destinations to promote summer and shoulder seasons in recent years.

“The upside is summer season isn’t dependent on snow,” he said. “A lot of things are being added to calendars. (Resorts) are taking this summer mountain travel business and growing it really dramatically.”

While Tahoe offers a longer-standing tradition of capitalizing on summer, Heavenly Mountain Resort is an example of further growing local summer offerings.

The mountain plans to open a zip line and other summer activities for the first time this year. The resort also has future plans for a mountain bike park.

“Heavenly continues to expand its summer offering, which is huge,” Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority executive director Carol Chaplin said. Describing the season’s potential, she said, “We have a summer vibe that is continuing to evolve.”

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