Record Numbers or Not, Ski Resorts Across the Southeast and Mid Atlantic are doing WELL this season!

First Trax

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This weather really has you guys exhibiting some vicious attitudes! Within one of our updates on Wednesday, we reported that numerous ski resorts had informed us that they had received record skier visits during this past Christmas to New Year’s Holiday week. Evidently some of you guys cried “BS” on our post.

Don’t shoot the messenger! Also know that we have no means of verifying statistics that resorts choose to share with us. When one resort reports that they had a thousand visitors a day during the Holidays, we have to take them at their word. However, some of our visitor’s reactions DID jog a thought or two that we thought might interest some of you.

I remember a couple of years ago I debated some of the statistics that resorts were posting regarding skier visits. Within days of posting my column I received hundreds of emails and some of the respondents advised me:

1. Statistics don’t lie but liars use statistics

2. Figures Don’t Lie – But Liars Sure Can Figure Statistics

3. Statistics means never having to say you’re certain.

4. A statistician is a person who stands in a bucket of ice water, sticks their head in an oven and says "on average, I feel fine!"

5. A statistician drowned while crossing a stream that was, on average, 6 inches deep.

6. Most people use statistics the way a drunk uses a lamp post, more for support than enlightenment.

…and of course, there’s the most famous version written by none other than Samuel Clemens (alias Mark Twain) when he penned, “Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.”

Before I get on with the rest of the article, I want preface things by saying that if you’re reading this column expecting a resort by resort breakdown of skier visits for last week, you’re going to be disappointed. Some resort management is simply more “secretive” or closer to the vest about revealing numbers. After all there IS some competition amongst resorts, even though most will play it down.

Regardless, the intent of this story is not to talk about the possible “inflation” of statistics, skier visits or anything else. The point that I want to make here is that even with the lack of weather and snow that we’ve experienced across the region to date – skier traffic is quite nice at all resorts. Disagree all you want, but that’s the facts.

One illustration of how hungry skiers are to ride ANY kind of terrain could be seen by viewing the Live Cam at the base of Ski Beech. At 2pm Wednesday afternoon their hill was crowded. After receiving a couple of record skier visit contacts from Timberline and Snowshoe Resort, I decided to make a couple of calls. While some of the resort managers were not available, we were able to ascertain some very positive numbers.

Gil Adams, Marketing Director at Ski Beech and a good friend of mine, shared the following insight, “We were relatively pleased with the Holiday traffic. While I don’t have exact numbers, we probably averaged 2500 skiers per day during the Holidays.” He shared that those kind of numbers probably amounted to a 30% drop off from last year’s record Holiday skier visits. He added, “The people from Florida and Georgia that are here in huge numbers have had a good time. What we’re missing right now are the avid skiers that are within a day’s drive. Their just not interested in coming until the conditions are better.”

Adams did admin that with the forecast, Friday’s expected rain and their slope coverage right now, that Ski Beech would be fighting to stay open by the “skin of their teeth” while awaiting colder temps that are expected to reenter the area the first of next week.

Adams also stated something that is important to note when he shared, “We’d all like to have more slopes open across the state and the region, but we’re keeping a good attitude. Our GM has a good, upbeat attitude and that’s important because bad attitudes are infectious and we want our employees to remain upbeat when dealing with our guests.”

Well put Gil.

Skier Visits Per Season –

While we can’t put a figure on numbers at all resorts across the region, we can share some numbers with you that might be of interest.

While a few West Virginia resorts have shared what they are calling record skier visits for the Holiday period that just ended, most other areas are reporting numbers that they were PLEASED with, but that WERE off somewhat from a normal season where more terrain and cold weather was available for guests.

Most North Carolina resorts are sharing that their traffic was probably off anywhere from 10-30%. We have no information available for the Virginia resorts. However, the Southeast’s resorts are not alone in our frustrations with Old Man Winter.

Vermont, which ranks third in the United States in terms of annual skier visits with over 4.1 million skier visits per year, is reporting that last week’s Holiday period was about 20% off of normal. In mid December, Vermont resorts kicked off an “Operation White Christmas” wherein they were making snow at every possible moment in hopes of getting as much terrain open as possible for the Holiday crowd. One Vermont newspaper actually wrote just prior to Christmas, “Anyone planning a holiday ski vacation at the Smugglers’ Notch resort should pack a bathing suit. Plagued by not enough natural snow, Smugglers’ Notch is one of several Vermont ski areas playing up their swimming pools and hot tubs.”

Before some of you write me that this is very rare for Vermont resorts, consider that last season was a challenging one for Vermont resorts and while Southeast resorts were setting Holiday skier visits records, Vermont resorts were fighting rain and numbers that were off. TWO season ago, Killington Resort, the East’s largest ski resort had one day in December when it had only ONE trail open.

According to Parker Riehle, President of the Vermont Ski Areas Association, only 35% of Vermont’s terrain was open by New Year’s Day. While they had some snow last Saturday, it wasn’t enough to make up for a disappointing Holiday week according to numerous Vermont resorts.

J.J. Toland, a spokesman for Sugarbush resort said, “We had days where we beat last year, but the overall picture wasn’t the happiest. Overall we’re significantly down from last year.”

So Vermont was down, North Carolina was down, Virginia (according to the only source we were able to speak with) was down.

Everything is Relative –

While Vermont reported numbers that were “off” somewhat last season, they still turned 4,147,467 skier visits during the 2005-2006 season. That figure was down by about 9% from normal for them, but enough to keep them ranked third in the country – behind Colorado’s 11 millions skier visits, and California’s 7.5 million annually.

According to one source, accommodations near Vermont’s ski areas were at about 82% occupancy last week…and from what we have been able to ascertain from the High Country’s accommodations managers…bookings were quite nice last week. One of our clients, Louise and Jack Anderson who own Resort Real Estate and Rentals on Sugar Mountain, reported that they had their best Holiday week ever. A few others shared that they were 100% booked up during the week.

So, let’s just say that while records may or may not have fallen across the Southeast’s resorts last week; AND while conditions were less than wonderful; AND while only 50-60% of terrain was available to ski or ride – skier visits were “passable” according to all sources. One contact, who didn’t want to be singled out said, “Mike, the best way I know to put it is that we were probably off by 25-35% from last season, but we made money last week. We certainly didn’t lose any.”

Skier Visit Comparisons

We’re thinking ahead with this final information! We figured that as soon as many of you read this article, you’d be emailing us questions about the annual skier visits from the rest of the region.

West Virginia Ski Areas report that they pull approximately 850,000 skier visits per season. Last season the largest of the West Virginia ski areas, Snowshoe, reported an overall slight, 1% decline in numbers despite the fact that they pulled more than 450,000 of the state’s skier visits by themselves.

As close as we can calculate here’s West Virginia’s resort breakdown:

Snowshoe – 450,000+
Winterplace – 223,000
Canaan Valley – 90,000
Timberline – 87,000

* These numbers come from third-party sources are have not been confirmed by all of the individual resorts.

According to sources that include the NCSAA, North Carolina receives more than 600,000 skier visits per season. As far as we can ascertain, the record skier visits for the state is approximately 650,000 skier visits and of those, the High Country’s four resorts, Appalachian, Hawksnest, Ski Beech and Sugar receive about 80% of those visitors. That is according to Kim Jochl in an article that she wrote as President of the NC Ski Areas Association.

Using those numbers we’d have to estimate of the approximately 650,000 annual skier visits they would break down with ranking somewhat like this:

Sugar Mountain
Ski Beech
Wolf Ridge
Sapphire Valley

According to a study that was done a year or two ago, approximately 40% of the skier visits come from North Carolina, 18% were from Georgia, 16% were from South Carolina and 14% from Florida.

Additional information that the report revealed stated that 70% of the visitors attended resorts to ski, while 20% were snowboarders and 5% were tubing enthusiasts. (We’re still trying to figure about what they other 5% were doing on the slopes!)

Getting back to Mark Twain’s statement about statistics, we have to wonder about this last stat. According to the same study, which was commissioned by the NCSAA, 28% of these visitors considered themselves to be beginners, 36% said they were “HIGH” intermediates, while 9% said they were expert skiers. I think we could also say that “Skiers lie and liars ski”!!!

Every time I hit the slopes it’s more like 50% are beginners, 45% are intermediates and 5% are expert skiers. We’re not certain how many of any of those levels were high! 😉

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Until Next Time…


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