Even before the lifts stop spinning each year, resort managers tabulate ski industry statistics and numbers to document how the season went. Some of the key figures that are closely tracked include: total visits, the number of season passes sold, the number of lessons taught, and, of course, revenue. The National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) collects this wealth of ski data and analyzes it in their Kottke End of Season Report.
Was the 2013/14 Winter a great one, average, or as challenging as blue ice on a steep pitch?
As this report reveals, snow conditions and business operations varied widely by geography this Winter. The answer to that question really depends on what area of the country you’re talking about.
The NSAA defines a visit as one person skiing or snowboarding one day or night at a ski area. This Winter, certain areas clearly pulled ahead.
Snow riders living on the West Coast probably hung up their boards long ago, hoping for a better 2014/15 season. Southern California to the Cascades in Washington saw less than average snow conditions, and the number of visits consequently reflected this fact.
The Rocky Mountains, however, enjoyed bountiful snowfall throughout the Winter, including some late-season storms. As a result, many ski areas here achieved record seasons. Colorado had its best season ever, while Utah notched its third best.
In New England, a slow December and January, combined with a great second half, resulted in the region being about even with last Winter. Both New Hampshire and Vermont recorded numbers relatively close to last season.
In the Midwest, even the “polar vortex” couldn’t keep skiers and riders off the slopes, as this region also experienced a gain in skier visits.
Snowfall and weather have a sizeable impact on how ski areas perform, and this Winter’s stats show the continuation of that pattern.
Snowfall levels were strong in the Midwest, Southeast, and Rocky Mountain regions of the country, while the Northeast recorded about the same amount of the white stuff as the previous Winter. The Pacific West experienced a drop in snowfall, with the Southern Pacific ski areas at more of a disadvantage than further North in states like Oregon or Washington.
For a more complete write-up on where the snow fell this season, see this post from our favorite snow-chasing meteorologist, Joel Gratz.
Resort operators have come to understand that tomorrow’s customers are today’s lesson-takers. Hence, there has been a renewed emphasis on increasing the number of people taking lessons and improving their overall first-time experience. These efforts have been successful, as the number of lessons taught per ski area increased nearly 4%.
Every region of the country experienced growth in the number of lessons, except the Rocky Mountains, where the figure remained flat.
The Southeast and the Midwest regions are known for introducing a large share of newcomers to sliding sports. In fact, Camelback Resort in Pennsylvania was awarded this year’s NSAA Conversion Cup for the best overall lesson programs. Many ski hills in these two regions are close to highly populated cities, are equipped with good terrain, and offer various programs for learning to ski and snowboard. All these factors together make it ideal for launching the careers of future season pass holders.
Uphill and Backcountry Access
Uphill traffic and backcountry access have been current topics of interest in the ski industry. An 8% increase in the sales of AT (Alpine Touring) gear demonstrates that using human power to ascend the mountain is becoming more common.
42% of ski areas in the US allow uphill access to their slopes, an increase from 31% in 2012/13. Ski areas in the West and Northeast are most apt to allow uphill access, giving people a workout on the way up and a fun, controlled descent on the way down.
A little more than one-third of ski areas allow access to the backcountry, letting skiers and snowboarders find their own tracks on the other side of the ropes. This provision is more common in the Western regions (where more than half of the ski areas allow some form of backcountry access, either limited or unlimited) than the Eastern regions of the country. The option to leave the resort boundaries lets resorts offer a unique experience to their visitors, while giving backcountry enthusiasts quick access to the goods.
Now that the 2013/14 season is in the books, ski areas are looking forward to another great Winter– but not before lots of zip lines, challenge courses, mountain biking, and Summer weddings take place. Enjoy the off-season (AKA “summer”) and we’ll see you out on the hill!