Adapting to changing times
Chicago remains covered by snow, but ski areas have been tossing in the towel on the warm and snowless West Coast.
Among the 20-some ski areas in the West to close early this season are Sugar Bowl Resort, Sierra-at-Tahoe, and Homewood, all in the Lake Tahoe area. Washington state’s Mt. Baker remains “temporarily suspended,” as it has been since March 8.
Squaw Valley, meanwhile, has begun pumping sales of its season passes for next winter with an unusual guarantee: “If you ski and ride less than five days next winter season, we’ll credit you for unused days on your next pass.”
The Sierra Nevada has received only one-third of the natural snowfall in this fourth and perhaps worst year of drought. In parts, such as the central Sierra, snowpack measured at just 13 percent of average.
Now, newspapers are conjecturing about life after skiing if, as climate models predict, rain replaces snow more frequently in the future.
The somewhat trite response is that ski resorts have to expand their offerings, to become more year-round resorts. Newspapers on both sides of the Sierra Nevada approached this angle, and found plenty of people willing to talk about how magnificent mountain towns were during summer months.
The Sacramento Bee pointed to investments in essentially non-skiing infrastructure. Vail Resorts is investing in zip lines and other summer attractions at Heavenly, for example. Boreal Mountain Resort several years ago opened a 33,000-square-foot indoor recreation facility.
As for mountain towns, some have summer economies as vibrant as those in winter. In California, Truckee is near several ski areas but at the base of none. It has a larger summer draw than in winter, with shoulder seasons growing in length, reports Tony Lashbrook, the town manager.
In Colorado, sales tax revenues for the six non-skiing months surpass those of winter in Telluride and Crested Butte.
Vail has also become extremely busy in summer, and lodges are frequently full in July and August. But room rates? That’s another matter. About 70 percent of Vail’s sales tax revenues arrive during the six-months of winter. People pay top dollar to slide down the mountain.
Further, Vail Resorts’ Blaise Carrig said the company does not expect summer to ever rival winter.
“Winter revenues are dramatically greater for our company, and they always will be,” said Carrig, the president of the company’s mountain division. “What we are hoping for is that we can grow our summer business to significantly reduce or eliminate the loss quarters (of summer and fall).”
The old is new again
WINTER PARK, Colo. – Will the past become the future? From 1940 to 2009, almost without interruption, special trains departed Denver’s Union Station every Saturday and Sunday morning, depositing skiers an hour and a half later at the foot of the slopes of Winter Park.
A generation or two of skiers from Denver learned to ski at Winter Park before Interstate 70 opened and soon after Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, and a host of other ski areas commenced business.
But while the ski trains remained popular, they were ended in 2009 by Philip Anschutz, the owner, because of the cost of insurance.
Now, following a special resumption of train service in mid-March that drew 900 riders for the weekend trips, hope remains in Winter Park that the service can become permanent once again.
Winter Park makes the argument that the ski trains are good for Colorado altogether. The Colorado Department of Transportation estimated that the trains would draw enough passengers to reduce 450 to 500 cars on heavily congested Interstate 70 during peak traffic flows.