Christmas Holiday Starts Strong for Many Resorts

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SAM Magazine--Seattle, Wash., Dec. 31, 2004--Winter resorts nationwide report strong visitation for the Christmas holiday week. The only exception to this cheery news is the Pacific Northwest, where low snowfall kept several resorts closed until Christmas Day or later. Several resorts are reporting the largest crowds in years. Learn-to programs are overflowing, and enthusiasm for winter sports is widely reported as extremely high. As Mt. Baker (Wash.) spokeswoman Gwyn Howat says, "enthusiasm is so great with skiers and riders. The customers understand we're at the mercy of the weather, and they are being good sports about it."

Eastern areas have seen visits on a par with or slightly higher than last year. Snow in major metro areas right after the holiday helped spur visits, especially out of the Boston area. However, a wet Friday dampened expectations for the New Year's weekend.

In the Midwest, huge pre-Christmas snowfalls led to even larger holiday crowds, with several areas in Ohio and Indiana, including Paoli Peaks and Mad River, reporting record holiday visits. In Michigan, Crystal Mountain reported excellent traffic also, though rain threatened to hold down New Year's crowds.

Business was strong throughout California, Utah, and much of Colorado. Areas in California and Utah received lots of early snow, which was augmented during the holiday week--as much as six feet in California, and more than two feet in Utah. Park City is on a par with last year, which was very strong. In California, the words "awesome" and "exciting" crop up everywhere.

Southern California has been especially strong. Mountain High, which opened for the season on Oct. 29, reports 200,000 visits by the end of 2004. "This is one year in 50 for weather," says Karl Kapuscinski, following a two-foot dump at the end of December. "It has created so much excitement in the business. Anything having to do with winter is booming." Kapuscinski predicted that the Christmas to New Year's stretch would be the area's busiest Saturday-to-Saturday ever. Beginner lessons have been sold out for the past two weeks. "We're seeing whole families get into it, not just the 16- and 17-year-olds. Five years ago, it was just the kids," says Kapuscinski.

Colorado areas were generally less endowed with snowfall, but still have picked up between six inches and two feet in the past few days. In Vail, merchants are calling business the best it has been in three years. In Aspen, the liftlines at the gondola are longer than anyone can remember.

In contrast, the Northwest season has gotten off to the slowest start since 1989-90. Mt. Baker, Crystal Mountain, Mt. Bachelor, Timberline and Mt. Hood Meadows were up and running before the holidays began, but many of the resorts outside Seattle failed to open prior to Christmas, including the Snoqualmie areas and Stevens Pass. Many of those who were open had limited terrain and thin cover. Some areas were predicting the late start has cost them up to 20 percent of the season's business.