IVGID GM’s Corner: Opening Diamond Peak earlier vs. later
Special to the Bonanza
Thanks to a cold November, we were able to have enough nights of snowmaking to enjoy our earliest opening since 1994! In fact, last year we were only able to make snow six nights in November; this year we had 16 nights with the right combination of temperature and humidity.
I can tell you that the conditions on the mountain are superior to all of last year. We had over 1,000 skiers the first weekend we were open and received rave reviews on the snow pack.
We seriously considered opening for the Thanksgiving weekend, however there wasn’t quite enough natural snow to get us there — we needed all of November to make enough snow to provide the skiers with the quality experience they expect from Diamond Peak. One of the reasons that we’ve traditionally been one of the last resorts to open is due to our desire to provide a quality experience from day one.
We also try to focus on bringing you that quality experience in the most cost-effective manner possible. Waiting until mid-December to typically open also helps our bottom line. Other than Thanksgiving weekend, November through early December is usually a very slow time in the ski industry, particularly for those of us who are not a destination resort.
Any revenue gained during Thanksgiving is more than offset by the lack of revenue to offset expenses in early December — unless it is an especially cold year such as this one.
In addition, opening slightly later also allows us to make better use of our existing employee base. Many IVGID staffers are busy mothballing our golf venues during November. If we were required to ramp up ski earlier, we would incur higher labor costs. Opening a bit later allows us to access our existing employee base more efficiently.
Finally, our ski area is located in the “banana belt” of Lake Tahoe. We typically see the least snow and the warmest temperatures, particularly during November. It just isn’t realistic to expect snow and cold temperatures to cooperate in nine out of every ten years, so shooting for a Thanksgiving opening would be an exercise in futility during most seasons — and a waste of our precious financial resources.
We are now in our 50th year of operation and have a pretty good idea of what works for our residents and customer base. We aren’t one of the big guys and we aren’t in the snow belt, but we do put out a first class product when we do open. And we wouldn’t be in our 50th year of operation if we didn’t do a good job for our customers.
By the way, our season pass package includes 4 tickets to Boreal, which is typically the first ski to open in the region — so our pass holders don’t have to wait too long to get that first run.
Periodically, we compare our operational performance to other similar sized ski areas in the Sierra. From both a revenue and expense standpoint, we are head and shoulders above our peers. Prior to the current drought we were well above the mean, and since the drought our performance has been staggeringly superior in comparison.
Most of our peer ski areas have not made the investment we’ve made in snowmaking over the past few decades. Thanks to this wise investment supported by our Board and our community, we’ve been able to have a positive operational cash flow the past few years. Our peers have been closed most of the winter and lost millions of dollars.
These numbers reinforce the importance of constantly reinvesting in the ski area — especially in areas such as snowmaking which protect the operation from the devastating impact of severe drought. Not only was Diamond Peak one of the first ski areas in the west to include snowmaking, we were also very aggressive in updating our snowmaking system during the 1990s in response to the 1987-1993 drought.
Adopting our last ski area Master Plan in 1986 laid the foundation for this important investment as well as the expansion of the ski area. Without these investments, it is unlikely Diamond Peak would exist today.
That is why the updated Master Plan has been such a high priority the past few years. In order to protect our investment in this precious asset, we have to not only ensure that we are operating efficiently in the present, we need to be sure that we are poised for the future as well.
I look forward to seeing all of you on the slopes this winter!
“GM’s Corner” is a recurring column from Incline Village General Improvement Distinct General Manager Steve Pinkerton, who will discuss issues and offer updates regarding various district matters. He may be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.