Holiday week turns into major gift for ski areas

Ski and snowboard sales have been through the roof this year. Now the ski areas are catching up, with some fantastic holiday business to report of their own.
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The new wave of optimism sweeping through the snowsports industry only accelerated through the holiday week as record and near record days were reported at ski areas across the country.

“I have heard some people opining that on the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday between Christmas and New Year’s, there may have been as many people skiing in the U.S. as there have been ever,” said Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association. “And that was from coast to coast, including the Eastern, Western and Pacific Northwest ski areas.”

Great snow conditions courtesy of La Niña, coupled with retail reports of full margin sell-through at specialty shops, continue to raise expectations for a record year on America’s ski slopes. Now that the critical Christmas holiday season has turned out so well, the hopes are only getting higher.

“When retail increases fall in line with an uptick on the resort side, it can be a fairly strong indicator that we are in store for a very good year, or even a strong couple of years,” said Berry. “When both are doing well, it speaks to what I think could be a multi-year run -- we just need the weather to keep cooperating, too.”

So far, so good, especially with areas like Solitude in Utah reporting 270 inches so far this season -- a total it didn’t hit until after President’s Weekend last year. In California, Squaw Valley has received over 290 inches of snow so far, more than 100 inches over previous season-to-date snowfall records. And just before Christmas, several New England ski areas reported up to three feet of fresh snow.

“The new snow was followed by three days of beautiful weather, which resulted in our busiest holiday in years,” said Kevin Rosenberg of Mount Abram in Maine, adding that the area’s parking lot couldn’t contain all the customers. “The cars were parked along the ski area access road.”

Maine’s Camden Snow Bowl sold out its lessons and rental ski equipment, and at Saddleback, there were also overflow crowds and cars lining the road. Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort in Hancock, Mass., set a single-day, skier-visit record for the area on Dec. 30, 2010, with 7,874 total visits for the operating day.

“We are thrilled with way the week has gone. All the fresh snow to start out the week set up great skiing and riding for our guests and people have certainly come out to take advantage of it,” said Brian Fairbank Jiminy Peak's president and CEO.

In Colorado, all the fresh snow only propelled a market that was already on a roll. “While we don’t have specific numbers yet, overall, the 2010-11 season is off to a pretty good start in Colorado,” said Jennifer Rudolph of Colorado Ski Country USA. “Going into opening day, we had some momentum coming off of last season, which was the second busiest season nationally.”

According to Colorado’s Summit Daily newspaper, the lodging community is reaping the same benefit as the ski areas. The paper reports that reservations for the first week of 2011 are trending significantly higher than they were at the same time last year, and for the first week of January are 10 percent to 15 percent higher than they were at the same time last year.

In California, the LA Times reported that areas such as Mountain High were also experiencing parking lot overflow. And up in Idaho, Schweitzer Mountain Resort's business is pacing 20 percent higher than ever through the month of December.

Tom Chasse, Schweitzer’s president and CEO, said, “We started the season with very strong season pass sales and have seen encouraging trends across many of our resort departments. Our lodging occupancy for the holiday period was up 9.1 percent, while rental and retail enjoyed an 8.4 percent increase. We remain cautiously optimistic that a slowly improving economy coupled with guest enthusiasm for Schweitzer will help us maintain this trajectory for the long season ahead.”

That should be easy if La Niña keeps adding snow at the rate it’s been falling at places like Squaw Valley in California, where the snowpack is presently at 200 percent above average for this time of year.

--Peter Kray

On Oct. 6, 2010, veteran journalist Peter Kray joined the SNEWS team and is now editor of the new SNEWS WinterSports channel. We trust you are enjoying the full offering of WinterSports news. Be sure to email your friends and let them know the best WinterSports news has arrived -- just in time for the start of the winter season. Got WinterSports news? Send your WinterSports news to Kray at pkray@snewsnet.com. Subscribers can also post WinterSports news releases directly to the SNEWS website. Email us at snewsbox@snewsnet.com to learn about posting your own news releases, or for any other questions or comments. We love to hear from our readers!

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