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Snow conditions, not economy, are key to Colorado ski season success

Bob Berwyn
bberwyn@summitdaily.com
Summit County, Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY ” While the gloomy economic news doesn’t seem to end these days, ski industry experts are still optimistic about the upcoming season, provided there’s plenty of powder.

Looking at trends for the past 19 years, RRC Associates president Nolan Rosall said statistics show that skier and snowboard visits have been more dominated by snow quality, temperatures and timing of snowfall than by economic factors or consumer confidence.

Rosall’s Boulder-based research firm plotted four lines on a graph, overlaying recessionary periods with a national snowfall index, a consumer confidence measure and skier visit numbers.



The resulting picture suggests that, even when times are tough, skier visits can stay high in good snow years. The textbook case is the winter of 1981-1982, when skier visits soared to record levels despite a deep recession.

Poor snow this winter, however, could lead to a double whammy for ski resorts.



“It’s easy for people to cancel plans for a ski vacation if the snow and the economy are bad,” Rosall said. Poor snow becomes the scapegoat for canceling a ski trip, he said.

This season will represent a unique test in how effective the industry has been in creating dedicated participants, he said. The increasingly unstable world economy reinforces the need to build a strong domestic visitation base, he added.

The only big question is whether the current economic decline is in the same ballpark with past dips ” or whether the current credit crisis and stock market crash will lead to unprecedented economic territory.

Rosall said that, based on tangible measures like unemployment figures and stock market values, the current economic situation is “within the realm of other recessions.”

The statistics released late last week in a special report for the National Ski Areas Association uses a consumer confidence yardstick as measure of the economy.

“It’s a psychological measure,” Rosall said. “But we can make a valid comparison.”

Breckenridge Ski Area vice president and chief operating officer Lucy Kay said the RRC report would help her plan for the upcoming season.

“We’re optimistic that people are still going to want to go on vacation and that they will find a way,” Kay said. Flexibility to respond to short-term changes, both in the economy and the weather, is the key to a successful season, she added.

As to whether the current recession is in line with past economic cycles, Kay said that, in her personal opinion, it’s too early to tell.

“My sense is, people are going to sit tight until the election. It’s a wait and see attitude,” she said.

The economic news will probably drive some changes in visitation, Rosall said. Skiers are less likely to take longer multi-day trips, instead looking for close-to-home options. That could affect some of the more remote resorts that rely on long-stay destination visits, he said.

“You do get shifts in where people ski,” he said.

That holds true for international visits, a strength of the Colorado ski industry in recent years. The same factors, economics and weather, are in play. A collapse of the Euro, the common European currency, could have dramatic impacts, he said.

Overall, the picture for international visits is not quite as advantageous as in previous seasons, Rosall said.

The short-term economic question marks highlight the need for the industry to take a long view of growth, and underlines the importance of continued investment in providing a quality vacation product, he concluded.

” Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at bberwyn@summitdaily.com.


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