Sports Facilities

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Action on Ski Slopes Staying Hot, Thanks to Sports Business

10 Aug, 2016

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

The snow cannons aren’t rumbling, the Ski Patrol has the season off and the market for Polartec is way down.

Business at ski resorts has never been better.

No, you don't need to re-read that, and no, it's not a misprint, either. According to an article in Sporting Goods Business Online, occupancy at western  mountain resorts rose 6.6 percent in June, signaling a fourth consecutive year of solid growth in summer bookings.

The performance pushed combined occupancy for all participating western destinations in the Rocky Mountain and Far West regions up 9.9 percent for the season-to-date period of May 1 through June 30, according to the most recent Mountain Market Briefing distributed by Denver-based DestiMetrics.

Lodging revenues at those resorts increased 14.5 percent in June and 6.6 percent for the season through the end of June. Overall bookings made in June for arrivals in the full six months of summer (May through October) are also up 7.5 percent with increases being reported in every month except August.

Those are some impressive numbers for an area of the country that historically hasn’t really seen a lot of action until the snow flies. But industry officials who recorded the bump are saying it’s part of a growing trend – and that the sports business market has something to do with it.

Some of the factors playing in winter resorts’ favor these days include the following:

Affordability: “Summer mountain vacations are much more affordable than their winter counterparts and since many visitors arrive from more regionally-based drive markets, they are less vulnerable to the broader markets swings and shifts,” reported Ralf Garrison, director of DestiMetrics.

Versatility: With natural terrain like slopes, rocks, logs and more to brag about, ski resort directors have become naturals at promoting their facilities for summer extreme events. The action sport website, PeterGreenberg.com, notes, “Mountain resorts across the country often play host to events, including extreme sports. Whether you’re interested in testing yourself on a muddy obstacle course in Tahoe, watching a lumberjack competition in West Virginia, or being a part of the GoPro Mountain Games in Vail, there’s an event out there for you.”

Accessibility: Many of the facilities that originally hosted obstacle runs and other events (county parks, private lands, etc.) had good terrain but poor access, and were unable to accommodate crowds of participants and spectators, leading to disastrous experiences with traffic backups, insufficient parking,  lodging and dining facilities (to say nothing of a lack of access for emergency vehicles). Ski resorts, by contrast, offer abundant parking, good infrastructure, rest rooms, restaurants, hotels and more, and are ADA-compliant.

Brian Duncanson, vice president of real estate for the Spartan Race, noted in a recent Inside Events article that for his purposes, the events planned at ski resorts often meet with success because they touch on the exact combination of wilderness – and amenities – needed by organizers.

“We have to find something an area that is a little remote. In an ideal world, that would be close to a major metropolitan area; unfortunately, that’s frequently counterintuitive,” Duncanson noted. “All the things we need – the interesting terrain with the hills, the water, the mud, the rocks – it’s all found at ski areas. Then they have the wide open spaces for the post-event festival, large parking areas, plus a lot of places to stay, eat and have fun. They really have everything we need from the event perspective. And these days, to stay in business, ski areas need to operate 12 months of the year so it really works for everyone.”

Investment: Times were, ski resorts used the off-season to tune up equipment, although the grounds largely lay fallow. Now, resorts are investing in facilities like ziplines, hiking trails, archery ranges and more – and bringing in the families of athletes who come to compete in events like mountain bike races or trail runs.

One example is Epic Discovery, at two resorts, Vail Mountain in Colorado, and at Heavenly, near Lake Tahoe in California. After pushing for federal legislation allowing more year-round recreation at ski areas on U.S. Forest Service land, Vail’s $25 million summer investment is designed to turn its ski areas into 12-month playgrounds, with mountain coasters, ziplines, aerial adventure courses and more hiking and biking trails. All of it stems from the 2011 Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act, which allows the Forest Service greater leeway when approving projects at resorts that initially were designed for downhill skiing.

Cross-Promotions: Ski resorts are far from isolationists, particularly not in the summer months. Sales officials at ski resorts are joining forces with nearby golf courses, fishing lakes and more to promote cooperative ventures. A tournament brings athletes and spectators not just to the golf course, lake or other facility, but to hotels and restaurants for even more economic impact.

“At the current pace, both the Far West and the Rocky Mountain regions are excelling at capturing new visitors,” said Garrison of DestiMetrics. “And because of that growing appeal to an ever-widening audience of summer travelers, this summer is shaping up to set a fifth consecutive record and could approach winter occupancy levels at several resorts although daily rates are significantly lower.”

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