Snow boosting Western ski resort visitation; Lake Tahoe included | SierraSun.com

Snow boosting Western ski resort visitation; Lake Tahoe included

Sebastian Foltz
sfoltz@tahoedailytribune.com

A group of snowboarders ride a chair at Kirkwood Mountain Resort following opening weekend. Early resort openings and snowfall have been credited to a likely spike in advanced winter bookings at lodging facilities across the West.

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — With November sno storms and ski resort openings ahead of schedule across the West, lodging numbers are already looking up for the winter season, according to Denver-based DestiMetrics — a company that monitors lodging trends at western mountain destinations.

The impact could mean a long-awaited boost to mountain economies, especially in resort areas farther west, like Lake Tahoe, which have been hurt by below-average snowfall in recent years.

"Resorts have not only been opening, but they've been opening bigger and earlier than the past," DestiMetrics director Ralf Garrison said, describing weather and economy as the two most significant influences on destination tourism in winter.

DestiMetrics October numbers show an uptick in winter bookings, which could spike substantially headed into December, according to Garrison. The full impact of early snowfall likely will not be seen until after the Thanksgiving holiday.

"Not much of that appeared in the Oct. 30 report," Garrison said. "Since that time, into mid-November, the base of bookings has increased significantly in direct relationship to weather."

DestiMetrics' Oct. 30 data shows a 1.2-percent increase in on-the-books winter occupancy across the West compared to the same time last winter. The company regularly assesses reservation data from 19 mountain destinations across Colorado, California, Utah, Nevada, Oregon and Wyoming to report their findings.

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"The impact appears to be greater in the far West where snow has been a wild card," Garrison added.

Those gains are in part due to a lower baseline, which can be credited to the down snow years.

Garrison said that, in addition to the economy and consumer confidence, it's all about "snow equity" — consumers' faith that snow will come.

In the Tahoe region, tourism and business representatives are already reporting a significant impact from the early start to the season.

"The lodging community is reporting positive and consistent information regarding the holiday week," Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority Executive Director Carol Chaplin said via email this week.

She said lodging in South Lake Tahoe was up at least 15 percent compared to recent years, with numerous lodging facilities reporting 95-100 percent occupancy for the holiday weekend.

"The resorts opening early have boosted last-minute bookings," she said, calling it the area's "strongest Thanksgiving since 2005."

Lake Tahoe South Shore Chamber of Commerce president Betty "B" Gorman affirmed lodging data anecdotally.

"I'm hearing the same thing," Gorman said. "A lot of them are booked solid this whole weekend."

Dealing with the challenges of down snow years has been difficult for ski-related businesses. Not all restaurants and lodging in the region, however, have seen such a detrimental impact, according to Gorman.

"We had certain businesses that actually did quite well," she said of the past few winters and some local lodging and restaurants. "They credited it to a different kind of visitors coming," one that may not be as concerned about skiing.

Still, there is no question that snow and consumer confidence makes a difference.

"When we get snow, everybody does better," Gorman said.