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Ridership off at ski resorts

Rob Sabo

A modest winter has left many northern Nevada and California ski resorts with decreased ridership and visitor spending compared with last season’s numbers and that often translates to fewer tourist dollars spent in regional casinos and hotels.

Mike Pierce, marketing director for Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe, says ridership is down about 30 percent for the year, mainly due to the recession and spring-like conditions throughout January that saw little fresh snow on the region’s ski slopes.

“We were lean on snow, no doubt,” Pierce says. “We got the right storm to have a strong Christmas, but we had a very warm and mild January. Snow is the trump factor for all things, and January was very much like a

spring month.”

Kayla Anderson, marketing coordinator for Diamond Peak Ski Resort at Incline Village, says the resort is

down about four percent compared to year-earlier figures. But she agrees that big snowstorms such as those that pounded the region throughout last week trump a weak economy.

“We had a decent Presidents’ Day weekend, and during the Christmas season there were a lot of people coming in when we had storms, so I think people are waiting to see what the weather does. As long as the roads stay clear and people can get up here, this will really help Diamond Peak.”

Jennie Bartlett, marketing manager for Sugar Bowl in Norden, says ridership also is slightly down at the Donner Pass resort, which she attributes to a predominately mild winter.

“At some points in the season, people in the Bay Area and Sacramento were wondering if we had any snow left,” Bartlett says. “We are very susceptible to snow conditions it almost determines what the skier count will be for a week or for a storm pattern.”

And with plenty of snow comes increased tourism dollars. Carol Chaplin, executive director of the Lake

Tahoe Visitors Authority, says the South Lake Tahoe region is seeing a downward trend this year, but

snowstorms peak interest and drive business.

“People are still traveling,” Chaplin says. “They are not staying as many days and not spending as much

money, but the faucet is still running.

“People are looking for deals or value, and what we are able to deliver helps us mitigate downward trends. We have a great product and great value, and when they do decide to spend money we are competitive in that account.”

As consumers tighten spending, marketing departments have scrambled to continue driving skiers to the slopes. Diamond Peak’s Anderson says a large number of calls to the resort are from deal-seekers.

“That is the No. 1 concern on their minds,” she says. “We have tried to create programs and events so that they have a reason to come up here. We really pump up our deals and specials because that is what they are concerned about right now.”

At Mt. Rose, season passes were slightly discounted to $333 and holiday restrictions were dropped, but overall sales figures are still down from the previous year, Pierce says. And Sugar Bowl offers perks such as free rentals and lessons with the purchase of weekday lift tickets and discounted youth lessons. In addition, skiers earn rewards points for money spent at the resort redeemable at the ski shop.

“We want to give more value with the purchase of a lift ticket,” Bartlett says. “We try to give incentives for people to spend a little more at Sugar Bowl.”

Rose’s Pierce says that all budget bets are off when the snow falls heavy, though. If snowstorms blanket the region, skiers and snowboarders will come out in force.

“When we have great conditions it does tend to drive more business,” he says. “We are still in the cooler part of season and haven’t even switched to spring mode. This season won’t be gangbusters and we won’t set any records, but by no means are we done.

“People still tend to recreate in tough times, and as long as you have a product they are looking for, they may not spend as much as they would normally but they still like to coming up and enjoying the mountain.”