Ski areas report robust holiday business
By Bruce Edwards
STAFF WRITER | January 03,2013
Vyto Starinskas / Staff Photo
Skiers at the Stratton Mountain Resor during the Christmas holiday week.
The state’s ski resorts are basking in the afterglow of the first major holiday of the ski season — one that received a boost from two well-timed storms that dumped more than two feet of snow over the Green Mountains.
The Christmas and New Year’s holiday period was one of the best in years with several resorts reporting record business, Parker Riehle, president of the Vermont Ski Areas Association, said Wednesday.
The percentage increase in business over last year’s holiday period, which was not a good year, “was anywhere from 20 to 50 percent higher,” Riehle said.
“Just off the charts,” he said.
Killington Resort, the largest resort in the East, reported a double-digit average increase in business levels over the holiday period compared to last year.
“We were up 14 percent across the board,” Killington spokeswoman Sarah Thorson said Wednesday. She said that includes lessons, food and beverage, retail, rental, lodging and skier visits.
It wasn’t a record-breaking holiday at Okemo Mountain Resort, but an excellent holiday all the same, said Okemo spokeswoman Bonnie MacPherson.
Although exact numbers weren’t available, MacPherson said business was “way up” from the previous year’s holiday period.
Even before the recent storms, she said lodging reservations were already at 90 percent capacity.
The first major storm right after Christmas gave Okemo’s snowmakers a bit of a rest.
“We were really scrambling prior to the holidays with snowmaking,” MacPherson said. “Going into that week, we had gone through 115 million gallons of water in our snowmaking system and we’d logged over 500 man hours staffing snowmaking.”
It was also an excellent holiday at Bolton Valley.
“The fresh snow really helped boost business.” Bolton Valley spokesman Josh Arneson said in an email. “Overall, for the week we were ahead of budget and way ahead of last year’s numbers.”
Not only did the storms make for ideal skiing conditions but that same snow fell down country in markets where the resorts draw many out-of-state skiers. The ski industry refers to that as the “backyard effect,” which puts people in the frame of mind to head north and put on their skis.
Compared to a year ago, that state of mind, along with more open terrain, helped business over the holiday at Mount Snow in West Dover, the state’s southernmost resort.
“Certainly was an improvement,” said Mount Snow spokesman David Meeker.
After last season’s snow drought, December’s snowfall was a welcome change for the state’s ski industry.
Andy Nash, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Burlington, said snowfall this season is running well ahead of last year.
Nash said the state received 30.7 inches in December compared to 37 inches all of last season and just 6.9 inches in December a year ago.
Riehle said the recent storms covered the entire state.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a snowstorm quite like this ... from Jay Peak all the way north to Mount Snow in the south, everybody got just about the same amount of snowfall, well over two feet,” he said. “Nobody got left out.”
For businesses that piggyback on the success of the ski resorts, it was a profitable holiday as well.
Johnny Boys Pancake House on Killington Road came close to setting a record, serving 832 meals on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, said owner LuAnne Petrone.
“The Christmas holiday wasn’t too crazy because it’s still home for the holiday and then this past weekend was fabulous,” Petrone said.
Riehle said ski resorts hope to ride the momentum from the recent holiday. Up next is the Martin Luther King weekend followed by the President’s Week holiday in February.
Winter tourism adds $500 million a year (2009) to the state’s economy in visitor spending, according to the Department of Tourism and Marketing.
Last year was an off year for the ski industry coinciding with the lack of snowfall.
The state’s 18 ski resorts recorded 3,903,171 skier and snowboarder visits during the 2011-12 season — down 10.5 percent from the 4,365,906 visits the previous season, which was the best season since 2004-05. Nationally, skier visits last season were off 16 percent from the previous year.