Winter Sports

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Investing in Terrain for Cycling, Running and Climbing Means No Off Season for Ski Resorts

20 Mar, 2019

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

The announcement that Alterra Mountain Company was planning to invest $181 million in capital improvements across its 14 North American destinations might not have been a surprise at first. After all, upgrading facilities is key to remaining competitive.

But it was where those monies would be invested that was raising eyebrows. While there were the expected upgrades to high-speed lifts, lodges and snowmaking, many investments will enhance two things: the overall customer service experience (not just the athlete experience) and the venues’ commitment to guests in what used to be the off-season.

And that adds up to more sports tourism, particularly in the spring, summer and fall, since ski resorts are gaining popularity for events such as trail running, mountain biking and obstacle racing. In addition, a number of upgrades will enable resorts to offer family-friendly activities and services in the summer, meaning those who come to town for those events can bring children and friends, extending their visit beyond the duration of the event.

Of that $181 million investment Alterra has announced, $27.1 million will be used to offer customer-friendly technology, $6.2 million will go into expanded dining experiences, $6.3 million in summer activity investments – and nearly $10 million in planning efforts to unlock future potential terrain and lift expansions, base area developments, new dining facilities, and four-season activity offerings. (Full details, and a list of the properties that will see off-season investments, is found at the end of this article.)

The investment in features that will come into play is all a part of a growing trend to try to maximize the use of winter resorts outside of the snow sport months. Ski resorts have become the go-to destinations for events like mountain biking, trail running and obstacle racing throughout the summer months. In addition, businesses that use the local waterways for fly fishing, paddle sports and more will also use mountain resorts for accommodations.

And it plays into the current market. The Sports and Fitness Industry Association recently released its Topline participation report, which noted an uptick in interest in, or aspiration to try, outdoor sports:

“When it came to what Americans were interested in doing, many reported interests in outdoor activities such as camping, biking, and fishing. For the first time, stand-up paddling drew interest; ranking the top activity for 25 to 44 age groups.”

While there are various reasons outdoor sports could be gaining more interest, including increased coverage on television, some theories also point to the need to unplug from the Internet and social media, and to have a digital detox.

But the widespread investment in enlarging the scope of winter venues for off-season events can be traced to a less philanthropic and far much more business-oriented reason: the need to continue to develop sports tourism there, yer-round. Back in 2015, Brian Duncanson, vice president of real estate for the Spartan Race, noted in an SDM 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.”

In addition, organizers say, such towns have built-in infrastructure, including good roads, access to airports and more.

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.”

The potential for economic impact is growing exponentially, according to event organizers. As far back as 2015, the GoPro Mountain Games, which took place in the Town of Vail on July 4-7, attracted 62,079 spectators, according to an independent survey prepared by Intercept Insight, LLC. The survey also reported an economic impact of $4.87 million to the Town of Vail.

Let’s let that sink in for a second: $4.87 million. For the town of Vail. You know, Colorado. Around the Fourth of July.

When not in use for sports events, winter resorts have been finding a new appeal to organizers of festivals, including those with live music – something that otherwise might not sit well in a suburban or urban area where residents could be bothered by noise.

Expect even more expansions and upgrades to be announced; in the meantime, here is a synopsis of what to expect from a few of Alterra’s winter resorts in the 2019-2020 season:

CMH Heli-Skiing & Summer Adventures, BC, Canada: The beloved Bobbie Burns lodge in British Columbia will experience a $6.4 million renovation, the largest infrastructure project that CMH has undertaken since 2002, with a complete redesign and modernization of existing guest rooms. In addition, the construction of a new wing will increase the number of single rooms, bringing the lodge capacity to 37 guests in winter, and enable CMH to offer a four-person private heli-skiing program starting in December 2019. Nearly $1 million ($1.2 million CAD) will be spent on run development throughout CMH’s heli-ski tenures. For summer 2019, guests will be able to navigate canyon ledges and glacier-fed waterfalls on the new Zillmer Canyon Via Ferrata, launching at CMH Cariboos.

Mammoth Mountain, CA: Mammoth Mountain will undergo a $10 million second phase renovation of its busy Canyon Lodge, focusing on expanded restaurants and skier service improvements. The popular Mill restaurant will also undergo renovations, adding 50+ seats to the dining area.

Winter Park Resort, CO: Winter Park Resort will reinforce its summer activities by adding new bike trails, rope courses, and climbing walls.

Tremblant, Quebec, Canada: Phase II of a major $7 million renovation of the Grand Manitou at Tremblant will include refreshes to dining spaces and other interior and exterior renovations.

Stratton, VT: Stratton’s debut in the world of mountain biking will begin with the construction of a completely new mountain biking park and trail network, complete with green, blue, and black trails, as well as various features.

Snowshoe, WV: Alterra Mountain Company is increasing its investment in mountain biking, constructing new bike trails and features at Snowshoe, which is consistently ranked among the top mountain biking destinations in the region. Snowshoe will play host to the final round of the 2019 Mountain Bike World Cup in September 2019.

Big Bear Mountain Resort, CA: Big Bear Mountain Resort will expand its bike park, increase parking capacity for guests, and make notable improvements in skier services and dining facilities to the base area.

Blue Mountain, Ontario, Canada: To offer unique outdoor family experiences, an elevated forest adventure course, including tree houses, bounce nets, and slides, will be constructed for family summer fun.

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