Lack of snow hurting retailers, resorts

Stoked after last year's snowy winter, consumers sent wintersports sales up through November, but a lack of snow this season is expected to dent sales in December. SNEWS has the latest figures from retailers and resorts.
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A healthy start for wintersports retail in late fall is fading as a lack of December snow in the United States is expected to put a dent in business.

SnowSports Industries America reported its latest figures of the market — sales between August and November 2011 — up 5 percent in units and 10 percent in dollars to $1.2 billion, compared to a year ago. But “reports from the field indicate that the lack of snow nationally has had a significantly negative impact on retail sales and reorders from retail to suppliers, in December,” the data collectors said.

Vail Resorts, which owns and operates six ski resorts in Colorado, California and Nevada, recently updated investors with a less than rosy picture. The telling number, total skier visits through the New Year’s 2012 weekend, fell 15.3 percent compared to last season. Strong preseason retail and pass sales kept the rest of the figures respectable. Vail reported season-to-date total lift ticket revenue up less than a percent, while its retail/rental revenue fell less than a percent.

“For the first time in 30 years, a lack of snow has not allowed us to open the back bowls in Vail as of Jan. 6, 2012 and, for the first time since the late 1800s, it did not snow at all in Tahoe in December,” Vail CEO Rob Katz commented in the release.

The Tahoe area in California and Nevada has been one of the hardest hit by a lack of snow. Less than a week into 2012, Homewood Mountain Resort in the region announced a cutback in its schedule, which will close the slopes Mondays through Thursdays, “until snow conditions permit full operations or further notice,” but will keep them open Fridays through Sundays.

Other Tahoe resorts have had to battle closing rumors, sending their marketing teams to the social media waves:

From Squaw Valley’s Facebook page, Jan. 4, 2012:

“You all know we are open, right? 7 days a week. Period. And we are making as much snow as we can as often as we can. Comments keep popping up that make me think not everyone realizes this. So, just to be clear, we are OPEN and, though the terrain is limited, it has been super fun to carve up the corduroy. So get off the couch or off that desk chair and come on out for some sunny turns. In fact, that's such a good idea, I'm going to get out of my own desk chair and make some turns. See you out there.”

And this from Kirkwood Mountain Resort’s Facebook page, also Jan. 4, 2012:

“Rumor mill is out of hand out thee mis amigos, Being The Woods front-man I am just gonna get this out there now! We are open, going to stay open, that is 7days a week, Monday - Sunday, everyday! Let's recap. 7days a week, 4 chair lifts, 1,5,6,& 11 ... Kapish? Recap? We are stoked to be open, riding top to bottom, here at the Wood!

Hope remains, however, as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration continues to call for standard La Niña conditions for the remaining winter months, SIA officials said, pointing to a Jan. 5 statement from the weather forecasters:

“During January-March 2012, there is an increased chance of above-average temperatures across the south-central and southeastern U.S., and below-average temperatures over the western and the northwest-central U.S. Also, above-average precipitation is favored across most of the northern tier of states and in the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys, and drier-than-average conditions are more likely across the southern tier of the U.S.”

And weather can shift quickly; ask anyone in Europe, where it went from a mild start to the season to several meters of snow falling throughout the Alps in late December and early January.

--David Clucas

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