NORTH CREEK - With bad economic news coming from all directions, it's a surprise to hear good news from the U.S. ski industry. According to the National Ski Areas Association's random survey of nationwide resorts, the numbers of skiers and riders is up for 2008-09 holiday period.
U.S. ski areas have reported strong and in some cases record-breaking numbers over last year's holiday period. Snowy weather is one of the contributing factors. In Massachusetts, Jiminy Peak and Wachusett Mountain - along with NY's Holiday Mountain - report above average visitation figures. In Vermont, Okemo said its visits were up seven percent over the same period last season and up six percent over a five-year average. This upward trend holds true for southern and western ski areas, too.
Along with the above average skier visitation, season pass sales across the nation were at record levels; yet hotel sales were recorded as soft. Across every region of the country, skiers and riders confirmed they were seeking out destinations close to home. Skiers and riders confirmed plans to save money by staying at less expensive accommodations and by spending less on food and drink.
Ski resorts across the nation hit a record high of 60.5 million visitors during the 2008-09 ski season. One reason being skiers and riders above the age of 45 are staying in the sport longer. Studies call it "a three-generation phenomenon." Baby Boomers, their kids and grandkids are enjoying sliding on the mountains together.
Another strong factor contributing to the increase in visitor numbers is the abundance of snow for the strong 2007-08 season. Good snow levels are helping to keep numbers up for the 2008-09 season.
Finally, just over six percent of the visitors last season were international customers. The weakened dollar has made the U.S. a better winter vacation value. International visits increased by 28 percent in 2007-08.
Both Gore and Whiteface are in line with the report's findings and continue to show good customer numbers for this season. Season's pass numbers are up for both areas. The ticket sales up to date (February) have increased from last year at Gore. Whiteface is showing slightly lower numbers than their 2007-08 season. All and all, numbers for both pass holders and visitors in both areas are up from a five-year average.
Other eastern mountains confirm continued good numbers for 2008-09 season.
"Windham's business is up this year," said Kirt Zimmer, marketing director for Windham Mountain. "I think a lot of folks are simply staying closer to home, and we're very close to the New York metro market. People who have adopted the mountain lifestyle aren't quick to abandon it, and our customer base is affluent enough to weather the economic crisis we're facing. Snow is a much bigger factor for us, and the weather has really cooperated."
Bonnie MacPherson, director of public relations for Okemo, echoed Zimmer's sentiments.
"Our skier visits aren't up - but very close to on par to our record season last year," she said. "We were up in season pass sales this year and we've seen some increases in Ski & Ride School programs - especially for little kids.
"It just goes to show that skiers and riders committed to the sport and the lifestyle are not willing to sacrifice their time on snow because of a sluggish economy," she added. "Their investments may have tanked but they are still going to invest in themselves and recreational time with friends and family.
"I have to admit that the 10-plus feet of natural snow that's fallen so far this year has been a bonus and probably helped keep the skiing spirit alive with each storm. Okemo has continued its aggressive approach to snowmaking as well and our reputation for grooming makes Okemo an easy choice for snowsports enthusiasts."
Resilient skiers and riders of all ages make it clear nothing picks you up like sliding downhill.