Economics

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White Winter, Godzilla El Nino Have Ski Resorts in the Black

15 Jun, 2016

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
All Those Infrastructure Improvements Didn’t Hurt, Either

Ski resorts are being kept busy in the off-season with everything from mud runs to mountain bike races, but early reports are indicating the winter of 2015/2016 has brought a blizzard of economic impact.

The pre-season buzz about the Godzilla El Nino, combined with a strong dollar, are being given the credit for this boost – along with the tens of millions of dollars of capital improvements put into resorts in the Rockies and Western U.S.

In a report released last week, Colorado Ski Country USA (CSCUSA) announced that skier visits at its 21 member resorts set a record this past season. According to data released at the association’s 53rd Annual Meeting, skier visits to CSCUSA member resorts reached 7.4 million in 2015/16, up by nearly five percent compared to last year.  Additionally, the 2015/16 season skier visit total for CSCUSA members bested the five-year average by more than 10 percent, making it the third consecutive year skier visits have outpaced the five-year average.

Utah resorts also reported a record winter, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. Utah's 14 active resorts attracted 4,457,575 visitors, almost 5 percent more than the previous best winter (4,249,190 in 2007-08). That total also was 12.9 percent better than the preceding, weak-snow winter, Ski Utah President and CEO Nathan Rafferty said, but more impressively was 10.4 percent above the five-year average of 4,037,349.

Nevada’s resorts also hit the jackpot, according to the Tahoe Daily Tribune, which reported a nearly 50 percent boost in ski tourism.

A 50 percent boost. Take all the time you need to think about that.

The figure came from National Ski Areas Association and Denver-based ski industry lodging analysts DestiMetrics, and showed that visits for the southwest region (California, Nevada and Arizona) increased by 53.1 percent over the previous year, reaching a total of 7.38 million. The Pacific Northwest saw a staggering 141.5-percent boost to 4.83 million visits. Nationwide total visits reached 53,925,300, only a 0.6 percent increase over the previous year.

In addition, DestiMetrics notes, Western mountain resorts showed a marked uptick in occupancy during the winter, as did revenues for resorts. As early as May, summer bookings were also on a record-setting pace.

According to an article in Travel Weekly, Western U.S. and Rocky Mountain ski resorts set themselves up for success by investing tens of millions of dollars in capital improvements, including upgraded lifts, new and expanded restaurants and even the addition of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology for its lift tickets which enables skiers and snowboarders to track vertical feet.

Resorts in the New England area have boasted similar upgrades. In Minnesota, Lutsen Mountains recently christened a new $7 million Lutsen Mountains gondola. Many resorts also invested in non-skier infrastructure, meant to capture the attention (and dollars) of family members who wanted to spend their time off the snow.

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