Ski resort owners, having invested big in facility upgrades with the goal of attracting more traffic, are anticipating winter sports tourism with the same excitement little kids have hoping for snow days.
According to an article in Travel Weekly, Western U.S. and Rocky Mountain ski resorts have invested 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.
So all those people who come to a resort to compete in a snowboard or ski event will have even more reason to stick around afterwards – or at least that’s the hope. Many resorts have already invested in non-skier infrastructure, meant to capture the attention (and dollars) of family members who want to spend their time off the snow.
The question, of course, is now that they’ve built it all, who will come? And the unholy alliance of a “Godzilla El Nino” and a strong dollar holds the answer, or at least part of it.
Travel Weekly notes, “For now, resort owners are hoping that the multiple storms that had hit Colorado between late October and last week and others that blanketed California’s Mammoth Mountain and Lake Tahoe area earlier this month will spur winter demand that, as of late September, was looking lackluster because of a combination of drought conditions this past spring and a stronger dollar that could discourage overseas skiers from traveling to the U.S.
Through September, occupancy at Western U.S. mountain resort towns from this month through next March was down 1.1% from a year earlier, according to DestiMetrics, which tracks lodging demand at 19 mountain-resort towns across California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming.
At the same time, however, revenue for winter bookings was up 2.1% from a year earlier because of higher resort rates.
Last season, the number of skiers visiting U.S. resorts fell for the first time in three years, declining 5.1%, to 53.6 million visits, the second-lowest figure in 15 years, according to SnowSports Industries America (SIA). Pacific-area ski-resort visits plunged 18%, to about 7 million, and predictions from long-range forecasters of El Nino-related storms hitting the Western U.S. have done little to quell skier anxiety.”
“If New England had an almost-too-cold winter, Colorado was almost average, and a lot of snow came late in the season,” said DestiMetrics Director Ralf Garrison. “And the far West is in either its third or fourth year of a drought. Consumers will likely wait out Mother Nature to see how she will behave.”
Airlines have gotten in on the improvements act as well. American Airlines expanded daily service between Colorado’s Aspen/Pitkin County Airport and both Chicago O’Hare and Dallas/Fort Worth airports. In California, United Airlines will fly routes each Saturday between Mammoth Lakes Airport and Denver from mid- December to mid-March. JetBlue Airways added non-stop service to New York’s Kennedy Airport from Reno-Tahoe International Airport.
Now, if only they could do something about the bag fees for skiers. Of course, while athletes need their own equipment, those traveling with them can always take advantage of the deals offered at rental shops, which have been flourishing in the wake of bag fees.