by Joe Stevens
Hello Everyone –
The first official day of spring this year is March 20, but with the temperatures climbing lately, spring skiing conditions, as everyone can tell, are already here. That means that dreaded “racoon eyes” disease will probably be popping out and that, my friends, is a good thing.
What that means is that the ski season has reached into the month of March, which if you had asked most industry officials back in September or as late as October, was not expected to happen due the pandemic. Everyone in the industry was keeping their skies crossed hoping for the best. For the most part, you know the best did come.
There was a lot of prior planning that went into getting through this season, which for some resorts came to an ended almost to the day that last season came to a screeching halt due to the pandemic. I can remember back making plans to make some Sunday turns at Winterplace, when I read on the resort’s website that they had made the decision, out of safety for everyone, to suspend operations. The rest of the resorts in the region quickly followed with the same decision.
For the resorts in the southeast region, that decision really didn’t affect things to an extent that it did for industry cousins in the northeast and out west. You see, things really just start getting cranked up for spring skiing right about now and those resorts in other regions are blessed with having a lots of snow, sometimes all the way into summer months. Lucky them. But heck, again we made it into March and many including yours truly had lots of doubt that was going to be able to happen and look at us now, we are here.
You have heard a lot of talk this year that a lot of new skiers and snowboarders found out how much fun they could have playing on the snow in the southeast. Without a doubt the skier visit numbers are up considerably this year, compared to seasons of recent memory. There is already conversation ongoing on how to keep those new visitors coming back to southeast resorts, when things get back to normal.
I truly believe that the majority of the new visitation will be returning to the region’s slopes next year because of this season’s weather. For most skiers and snowboarders their memory is basically from the season before and as we all know this season has been a pretty good one in terms of weather. There has been plenty of snow from day one on the slopes and because we haven’t had any severe fresh thaws cycles this season, the snow really didn’t go anywhere.
With that thought in mind, one thing you haven’t heard me touch upon this season has been the various base depths that are reported by resorts. You know what, I have just about given up on that side of the industry. Many a season ago I started thinking that those totals were the ego portion of the industry. To be honest, just how much snow does one need to have fun on the slopes. That answer is probably enough so that you don’t rip the petex off the bottom of your skis or snowboards. If someone uses base depths instead of how many acres are available, well, they have a totally different mind set than yours truly on the matter.
Now let’s talk about that retention matter, but instead of considering bringing the first-time visitors back next season, we need to take the current employees into consideration. I have heard from a number of industry folks that this has been one heck of a season on all of the frontline employees. You know those employees who have had direct contact with the visitors.
Now what I am about to say only includes a very small amount, and I mean small amount of the visitors, but none the less there have been some visitors that have been down right unfriendly to many of the staff members this season. One of the biggest challenges this season for staff and guests has been the wearing of face coverings.
Before the season even started, all the resorts in the region made it quite clear that face coverings and social distancing were going to be requirements of everyone, if we were going to get through the season. All the resorts worked with their state health departments to come up with rules that were designed to keep guests and employees as safe a possible during the season.
But when guests who were not complying with the rules were asked to do so, in order to comply to the state regulations, the reaction to the employee wasn’t always a pleasant one. I have said before and now I am repeating myself, but the employees were just doing their jobs. One of those jobs being keeping everyone as safe as possible.
But this has been one tough year on the employees. You see in years past, after they got through the holiday season, they knew they were over the hump of the busy time. Not this year, it has been wall to wall from day one.
This season, the midweeks at most resorts were as busy as the weekends. I say this because for some employees the slow down during the midweek usually allowed for them to catch their breath. Not this season, that’s for sure.
There’s where the retention for those stressed-out employees is going to be critical and as an industry, we can’t forget that fact.
That’s it for this week, thanks for joining me. Just remember whether it be cold or whether it be warm, we will weather the weather, whatever the weather will be. The season has been challenging but fun so far and it is going to be a lot more fun the rest of the way. Remember, Mother Nature provides the best social distancing these days.