Ski resorts: Down, but not out
LAKE TAHOE ” Skier visits and snowfall were down throughout Tahoe resorts this winter, a reflection of national trends.
Still, timely weather and the area’s proximity to populous cities might have staved off more menacing numbers, resort representatives said.
“While we didn’t break any records for snowfall, its timing was impeccable,” said John Monson, director of marketing for Sugar Bowl Ski Resort. “We all wanted to test the theory that great snow trumps a bad economy, but in the end, good snow with good timing was good enough.”
Preliminary estimates of resorts across the country show skier visits for the 2008/09 season are down 5.5 percent from the record setting 2007/08 season, which boasted 60.5 million visits, according to the National Ski Areas Association.
Even so, this past season ended up the fifth best on record.
“We didn’t see as many skier visits as we did last year but we were pleasantly surprised to see we kept on an even keel,” said Rachael Woods, spokeswoman for Alpine Meadows and Homewood resorts. “Visits weren’t as down as we anticipated.”
In Incline Village, Diamond Peak Ski Resort received 26,969 less skier visits this season than the previous one.
“All in all, we didn’t do that bad,” said Diamond Peak’s marketing coordinator, Kayla Anderson. “Diamond Peak was fortunate to receive snow before the busy holiday periods.”
But besides the snow, the ski area association attributed better-than-expected skier visits to those resorts in close proximity to major metropolitan markets, a category all Tahoe resorts fit in to.
“It was interesting to see that a lot of skiers and riders living in the Bay Area visited more than locals,” Woods said. “Last week I spoke with a gentleman in the Bay Area that visited Alpine 30 times this winter. People just aren’t willing to part with Tahoe.”
From a lodging standpoint, however, many resorts across the country reported fewer overnight visits and shorter stays, especially those considered destination resorts.
“When you analyze which resorts weathered the storm better than others, it’s predominantly those that enjoy large population centers nearby for the rubber-tire market, those non-destination resorts that don’t need to rely entirely on air travel for visitation and those that don’t have an overabundance of lodging inventory to fill,” Monson said.
In anticipation of low skier visits, most resorts took proactive steps to keep skiers and riders staying in Tahoe, offering “ski-n-stay” packages at greatly reduced prices.
“Squaw definitely made up for destination vacationers who were scaling back by attracting one to three night stays from last minute bookings from within the region,” said Savannah Cowley, Squaw Valley U.S.A’s spokeswomen.
And in many ways, it was the skiers and riders that reaped the benefits this year.
“The true winners out of this season’s situation were the skiers and riders in that resorts had to be very creative with value-driven pricing and promotions,” Monson said. “As resort operators, we were forced to be meticulous in our examining and re-examining of every minute detail of our operations, and the end result was ultimately a better experience for skiers and riders.”
Looking ahead, most Tahoe resorts will continue taking proactive steps to increase skier visits.
Squaw and Alpine have been selling unrestricted season passes at nearly half of what they cost last year ” $649 at Alpine and $1,199 at Squaw.
“We will continue to execute economic stimulus package programs next season,” Cowley said. “The drastically reduced pass prices make Squaw a viable option for many skiers and riders who have forgone skiing at Squaw in the past due to the cost.”
Sugar Bowl and Diamond Peak also fully intend to continue value-driven promotions next season, according to Monson and Anderson.
“We’re certainly hopeful that the economy will be moving in a more positive direction by next season,” Monson said. “But in the end we’re well positioned here in Tahoe for drive-market visitation. Skiers are a resilient lot.”
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