By Dave Belin, Director of Consulting Services, RRC Associates
As the ski season starts to draw to a close in some regions, we have begun sending NSAA’s Kottke End of Season survey to ski areas across the country. The annual survey provides critical benchmarks for the industry, including lessons, lifts, capital spending, snowfall, and other operational statistics. The statistic from the Kottke study that garners the most attention, however, is the total US skier visit number. As many have been asking since the middle of December, how will total visits at US ski areas fare in 2011/12?
Visits will likely be down, but by how much nationally? Which regions will fare better than others? What about timing of visits during the season? As we look into our crystal ball at RRC Associates, these questions remain difficult to answer with any precision. To be sure, we won’t know the final numbers for the 2011-12 season for sure until… well, until the season is actually over!
In our search to prognosticate the final US visit figure, we looked back at prior seasons that started with low snowfall in several regions, but found no direct correlation with total visits at the end of the season. Some seasons that started slowly turned around, some seasons stayed weak, and some ended up moderately good in terms of visits. So in the end, we did not come up with anything definitive to say about what the 2011/12 season might look like in May, other than we’ll have to wait and see.
- Monitoring the pace of the season continues to be of high interest to us and to many others in the industry. Some parts of the country have seen solid snow and visits right from the start of the season, particularly in the northern tier of the US (like northern New England, the Pacific Northwest and Alaska).
- And late February storms brought renewed optimism to ski areas in New York State
- In New England, the perpetual battle against the “no snow in the backyard” syndrome continues.
- Colorado started slowly, but some areas were making up ground. Aspen reported visits up slightly through the end of February.
- …While Vail Resorts reported a 14% decline in visits (but only a slight decline in revenue)
- And some regions have continued to struggle with low snowfall (such as southern New England, California, Midwest). This story from the LA Times documents the weak levels of visitation and the challenge of changing the perception in the marketplace.
- And despite recent snowstorms in Tahoe, it’s looking like it’s too little, too late
- Michigan has also battled a warm winter with snowmaking
So when we put all the numbers together at the end of the season, where will the final totals stack up? Well, we won’t know until we aggregate the Kottke survey responses, but as Yogi Berra quipped, “it ain’t over ‘till it’s over.”