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Sierra skiing drops

Sierra Sun file photoA skier heads downhill in this photo file, just as the Tahoe area's ski industry did last season with a shortage of natural snow.
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Statewide skier and snowboarder visits were down 20 percent this winter, marking the weakest season in recent past, ski officials say.

“This was not a good year, as you can well understand,” said Bob Roberts, California Ski Industry Association executive director. “It happens. If it happens three times in a row, call me. This is all attributable to the snow conditions.”

During the winter of 2005-06, 7.8 million skiers and snowboarders visited California ski resorts. This season, the state dropped to just 6.2 million visitors, Roberts said.



But Lake Tahoe still comprised 3.5 million, or more than 50 percent, of California’s skier visitations.

“It is entirely a function of the snow. This day and age I can almost tell you that if the snow falls early and consistently, we’ll have a 7.8-, or 8-million year,” Roberts said.



The industry defines a skier or snowboarder visit based on ticket and season pass sales, Roberts said.

While visitor numbers to Sierra ski resorts were down, Colorado set record visitation numbers this year, said Tony Hawks, communication manager with National Ski Areas Association.

“Preliminary estimates indicate that ’06-07 was indeed a challenging year for the ski industry,” said the Kottke National End of Season Survey 2006-07 preliminary report. “Abnormally warm temperatures and below-average snowfall impacted most areas of the country, delayed planned openings, interrupting the season with periodic resort closure and otherwise shortening the effective length of the season in all regions except the Rocky Mountains … total visits are estimated to have declined by 6.9 percent.”

Destination visitors continue to visit ski resorts in North Lake Tahoe and Truckee when the snowpack is weak, but it is those coming by car that will change plans if the weather isn’t ideal.

“The locals, like the Bay, Foothills, Sacramento and Reno, they look up and say ‘Eh, I’m not going up there. There’s no snow. Let me know when it snows,'” Roberts said. “[It was] the local ” California and Nevada ” market that really dropped.”

Nationwide, snowfall was down 22 percent from last year, and 41 percent in the Pacific West, according to the Kottke Nation End of Season Survey.

Officials with North Lake Tahoe Resort Association said they attribute the weak winter to minimal snowfall and not to any deficit in marketing.

“I think it was strictly weather-related. That’s what all the ski resorts recognized,” said Andy Chapman, the resort association’s director of tourism.

And though transient occupancy taxes were up compared to last year for the second quarter ” October through December ” the resort association hasn’t received information from Placer County regarding the third quarter.

“We anticipate it to be off of last year. Last year was a huge third quarter for us … everybody’s anticipating anywhere from 10 to 15 percent off,” Chapman said.

“Clearly the issue of climate change has our industry’s attention; having said that, I look at how the numbers bounce up and down,” Roberts said. “[It’s] likely we’ll have a much more normal weather pattern next year.”

Even if everyone agrees that warm weather was the root of a weak winter, it’s not necessarily a concern to ski resort officials.

“I think the way the resorts look at these things is over the long term; it’s one season out of five or 10 years,” said Carl Ribaudo, director of Ski Lake Tahoe, a marketing association of seven of the largest ski resorts in the region. “I try not to get too reactionary from one season to the next. In its context, it was a pretty soft season, obviously weather related. But whether it’s a single event or part of a pattern we’ll have to take a look at longer term.”


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