Winter Resorts Weather the Calm

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SAM Magazine-Denver, Jan. 11, 2012-With a below-average snow year leaving many areas short of their usual snow coverage and trail count, resorts are taking a variety of measures to lure customers-mostly by offering a variety of package deals and ticket discounts.

And some of those areas blessed with good snow are seeking to profit from the snow shortage elsewhere. Big Sky, Red Mountain, Grand Targhee, all attempted to lure those with season's passes in Colorado and California with discount deals for them.

Of course, conditions can change rapidly; there is a major snowstorm headed for New England tomorrow, if the forecasters are correct. But the pervasive snow drought so far has already had its effect. Vail Resorts reported that its visits through Jan. 1 were down 15 percent, and it's likely that many other areas have seen declines.

Slow Start

Snow totals, and cold temperatures, have been more scarce than usual across a broad swath across the middle of the Western U.S., from California across much of Nevada, southern Idaho, Utah, and Colorado. Natural snow has been very limited at the areas around Lake Tahoe, where the only terrain open is covered by snowmaking. Vail Resorts said that this was the first winter since the 1880s that there was no snowfall during the month of December at Lake Tahoe. One bright spot: Northstar, one of the most snowmaking-equipped of the Tahoe areas, has opened its 22-foot halfpipe.

Southern California areas are doing better, thanks to large snowmaking systems. The snowmaking hotspots have most of their terrain open. And Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard Resort reports nearly three feet of base, and most terrain open.

Others have been less fortunate. In Idaho, Soldier Mountain and Bogus Basin have not received enough snow to open by Jan. 10. In California, Badger Pass, Dodge Ridge, Donner Ski Ranch, Mt Shasta, and Tahoe Donner have yet to open.

The story is somewhat better across Utah and Colorado, though base depths are typically 18 to 36 inches in Colorado, and up to 40 inches in Utah. Most have been able to open only a fraction of their terrain. Vail Mountain reported that this year marked the first time in 30 years that the area has been unable to open the Back Bowls by Jan. 6.

The East coast has seen less than normal snow and cold, too, although Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern resorts with big snowmaking systems have fared relatively well. Most have the majority of their terrain open, and a few are fully open. In contrast, many larger areas in New England have between a third to half of their terrain open, and less than 30 inches of base. The deepest bases and most extensive terrain are at the northernmost areas, Stowe, Jay Peak, and Sugarloaf among them. Some smaller and mid-sized areas have a greater percentage of terrain open, and some have deeper bases-Hunter's is up to 50 inches in places.

Solid Seasons

Where's all the snow? In Washington state, northern Idaho, and Montana, base depths are in the 40- to 60-inch range, with more at the usual suspects. Mt. Baker, Wash., for example, is reporting 90-120 inches. Stevens Pass, Wash., also has ample snow, in the 55- to 65-inch range. That, along with a 15-inch snowfall, led to the resort's best day in four years on Dec. 30, with 8,637 visits.

Jackson Hole, Grand Targhee, and Big Sky, Montana, have roughly 40- to 50-inch bases.

Areas across the southern tier, in Arizona and New Mexico, such as Taos, report snow depths in the 30- to 60-inch range. Even the southernmost area in the U.S., Mt. Lemmon just north of Tucson, Ariz., has 24-32 inches of natural-snow base.

Midwestern areas with ample snowmaking have decent snow totals and available terrain, too. Typically these areas have at least 75 percent of their terrain open, with base depths up to four feet.

In Canada, areas across B.C. and Alberta are having a solid year. Bases in Alberta are in the 20- to 60-inch range, and in British Columbia, some areas have up to 80 inches. Whistler Blackcomb is the standout, with 60 to 120 inches. Resorts in northern Quebec are faring relatively well compared to their U.S. counterparts, too; Mont-Sainte-Anne is nearly 100 percent open.

Proactive Steps

Several areas have begun to aggressively discount prices to drive business. In Colorado, Copper Mountain is offering up to 54 percent off on packages, plus a free dinner and kids ski free. In an interview on CNBC, Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz said its six resorts are discounting aggressively during the non-peak season "as we always do."

But some areas are going further. Kirkwood offered a "satisfaction guarantee" last weekend, offering a free ticket for another visit during this season, no questions asked. "Our snow conditions are incredibly good with top to bottom skiing and riding on perfectly groomed runs," said CEO Dave Likins.

Crested Butte, Colo., is offering a variety of deals. One includes a free day of lifts, lessons and rentals to aspiring skiers and riders who book a two-night stay at any CBMR property through March 9, 2012. Crested Butte's $599, three-day, four-night Fly, Ski and Stay package-normally limited to January-is available through Apr. 2. Ski and stay packages from $62/night can be booked through Feb. 16. and again Mar. 26-Apr. 8.

Winter Park and Steamboat have revived what had been the preseason-only 4by40 Pass, offering two days at each resort for $229. Purchasers can also opt for discounted lodging deals.

Silverton Mountain offered a day's heli-skiing for only $50, a 70% discount, for this coming weekend. Silverton, too, is 100 percent open.

In Vermont, Okemo offered a $99 two-day online ticket deal for last weekend. Kids ski or ride for $1 when their family stays at an Okemo Mountain Resort managed property for at least two nights in January (excluding MLK weekend). In addition, if they book three nights, everyone stays the third night free. Those who pre-purchase day tickets online can get a free lunch with a single-day ticket, and between Jan. 2-13, adult day-ticket buyers also get one free junior or young adult ticket. Throughout January, including the MLK weekend, Okemo is offering a variety of package deals with 33 percent off lodging and 20 percent off lift tickets. Package rates are as low as $78.

Mount Snow, Vt., has also been aggressive. It held a 72-hour sale, offering a day's skiing and night's lodging for $75-the price of a midweek lift ticket-for midweek visits after the MLK weekend.

Making Hay

Several resorts with ample snow rang in the new year by offering deals for passholders at areas with little snow. Big Sky was first, offering Vail Resorts' Epic Pass holders free skiing throughout January if they booked through central reservations. On Jan. 3 Big Sky was reporting 3,050 of its 3,812 acres open, and all of its lifts running, accessing the resort's 4,350 vertical feet. The resort reported its busiest holiday ever, and a 15 percent increase in holiday week skier visits.

On Jan. 6, Red Mountain, B.C., went further, offering free lift passes to all U.S. residents for the next 30 days. "This offering is a direct response to the poor snow conditions across the U.S. this season and we're excited to do something that no other ski resort in North America is doing-free passes for all U.S. residents," said owner Howard Katkov.

Similarly, Grand Targhee, Wyo., is offering a free day of skiing to skiers who have bought season passes to any U.S. or Canadian Ski resort for this 2012 season. The offer requires a minimum three night stay booked through Grand Targhee's website or central reservations.

How has your season been? What programs have you instituted in response to the weather? Leave a comment and let others know.


33ft of snow & counting

Alyeska Resort just crossed the 400" mark for snowfall reporting a fresh 18" just yesterday. La Nina has been generous this winter and this may be the year to cross Alaska off the dream ski list. We share a backyard with Chugach Powder Guides who fired up snowcat skiing just after Christmas, one of its earliest starts to date. The heli-ski season starts mid-February. /

Alyeska Rocks

Sorry we missed Alyeska in this roundup. As the kings of snowfall this year, we should have included it. We'll do better next time, we promise.

Girdwood Rules!

Alyeska Resort deserves far better than absolutely no mention by SAM. Please give Alyeska their due in the future.