Mountain News: U.S. skier days expected to dip below 50 million 

click to enlarge TRENDING DOWN Snow came late, spring has arrived early and visitor numbers at resorts in the U.S.A. are down because of it.
  • TRENDING DOWN Snow came late, spring has arrived early and visitor numbers at resorts in the U.S.A. are down because of it.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — Winter came late, is leaving early, and with just a few exceptions, was never all that much to crow about at Steamboat. How does that leave the ski company there?

"I think we dodged the bullet," said Chris Diamond, chief executive of the Steamboat resort, at an event covered by the Steamboat Pilot & Today. He told a business group last week that he expects Steamboat to be down three to four per cent in destination skier visits by the time the season ends.

Others have had it much worse. He said some ski areas in California and the eastern United States will be down 30 to 50 per cent in skier days. Last year, U.S. ski areas recorded 61 million skier days. This year, total U.S. skier days will probably dip below 50 million.

With an economy showing increasing signs of confidence, this could have been a record year. Going into November, the only metric that looked bad for Steamboat were the airline reservations.

"I think that was a function of the cost, a minimum of 20 per cent (increases year after year)," Diamond said. "The guest was holding off on that piece of the purchase until the last minute."

Investments in snowmaking made over the last 30 years allowed Steamboat to do reasonably well at Christmas, even if snow was only 10 feet wide on some trails. Early on, executives decided there would be no cap on the snowmaking budget.

But Diamond also warned of a lag effect.

"I think it's been a long, long time since destination guests came to Steamboat or any of the major Colorado resorts and had a truly disappointing Christmas," Diamond said. "If that ever happens, all bets are off. As soon as that disappointing trip occurs, you pay a huge price down the road."

Diamond explained that holiday skiers, who book well in advance and pay top rates to enjoy a ski vacation during the week between Christmas and New Year's, tend to return once every several years. A ski resort that can't deliver during the holidays misses a turn in the rotation.

"It takes people out of the cycle and affects their decision to come whenever their next trip would be. They don't come every year, except for vacation homeowners. Typically, it's two to three years," Diamond said.

CB lays off employees

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — Crested Butte Mountain Resort is struggling. It's not alone in the ski industry, of course, but it had pains even before the no-snow December caused troubles.

Now, the ski company has laid off some long-time employees, including full-time, year-round workers, and mandated a two-week unpaid leave for every employee at the end of ski season, reports the Crested Butte News.

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