The National Ski Areas Association wrapped up their annual convention and trade show yesterday. It was a chance for all 321 if the NSAA affiliated ski areas across the continent to meet and discuss the state of the winter sports industry. As expected, the news wasn’t the greatest. According to the preliminary Kottke End of Season Survey, skier and snowboarder visits for the 2011/2012 season are estimated at 51 million. While it seems like a significant number, this is a drop of just under 10 million visitors! These are the lowest numbers since the 1991/1992 season which recorded 50.8 million resort visits. What did these two years share in common? Quite simply — low snowfall.
Here are a few quick stats:
- 50% of ski areas opened late this season
- 48% of ski areas closed early
- Southeast snowfall was down 13.9%
- Northeast snowfall was down 13%
- Pacific Southwest snowfall was down 11.7%
- Midwest snowfall was down 10.6%
- Rocky Mountain snowfall was down 0.8%
- Pacific Northwest snowfall was down 0.8%
Despite the dramatic drop in visits, there were some high points in the survey’s analysis of the resort industry. Since the weather was unusually mild, a number of visitors took advantage of resort amenities and ski school classes. Resort facility satisfaction is being reported at an all time high and ski school sales are up.
The final numbers are also a testament to successful marketing and business practices by the NSAA resorts. Over the past few years many resorts have been dedicated to improving upon their snowmaking capabilities. The added capacity to produce man-made snow was a saving grace for many resorts this season — especially on the east coast! Resorts have also been promoting season pass sales much more vigorously than in the past. Having a higher number of pre-paid patrons served as a critical insulator for the overall decrease in visits. Although season pass visits were down 10%, resorts are still reporting early season pass sales for the 2012/2013 season are already reporting high numbers.
As we begin to look towards the next season, it can be noted that after the 1980/1981 season — ski area visits bounced back 22% the very next year. In a sense, things could have been much worse for ski resorts coast to coast. Through cooperation and proper foresight, it would seem the industry will be able to weather the storm (or lack-thereof).