Browse Our Archives

January 2006

A Great Start

This year’s season got off to a record-breaking start for many and a nice rebound for others.

Written by Linda Goodspeed | 0 comment

If the ski season had ended the Sunday after Thanksgiving, it would have been a record breaker.

Shaking off a traumatic fall of natural disasters, gasoline price spikes, a nationwide real estate slowdown, economic uncertainty and a precipitous drop in consumer confidence, skiers turned to their favorite pastime with a vengeance.

“The ski industry has proved to be very resilient, more than the rest of the leisure travel industry,” says Ralf Garrison, who tracks the North American destination ski market as director of the Central Reservation Association of Destination Resorts (CRADR). “Our resilience has to do with two population bulges—the Baby Boomers, who are at the prime of their affluence, and the Gen Y echo boomers, who are so avid about their sport that if there’s snow they’ll find a way to get there.”

Indeed, lured by early season snow, these two pistons drove one of the best pre-seasons ever. Who said skiers are waiting longer to book? Not this season. All across the country—even in last year’s hard hit Northwest—advance bookings were up.

“We’re having a happy Thanksgiving,” said Jeff Moffett, director of central reservations and revenue management at Crested Butte, Colo., where reservations and pass sales were both up.

“All’s well at Bretton Woods, N.H.,” echoes Chip Steward, marketing manager, where advance sales of the new Bode ONE pass were up more than 400 percent. “It bodes will for the season. We opened a few weeks before Thanksgiving and the flow has been great.”

At Okemo, Vt., which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, pre-Thanksgiving pass sales were up 23 percent and advance lodging reservations 25 percent. Groups were already at 40 percent of budget. “Everything’s pointing to a great year,” says Bonnie MacPherson, PR director.

“The phones are ringing off the hook,” says Chris Bates, general manager at Cataloochee, N.C., where pre-season pass sales were up. “We’re really upbeat.”

“We’re chomping at the bit,” says Jane Eshbaugh, marketing director at Holiday Valley, N.Y., where pass sales were also way up.

All across the country, not a complaint could be found. Here are a few more early season snapshots:

At Ascutney, Vt., pass sales were up 11 percent. And although early Christmas reservations were off, MLK and Presidents week were sold out by mid-November. “We got our first snow in October and reservations went through the roof,” says Bill Henne, marketing director.

Bookings and lodging were also up substantially at Tremblant, Que., although groups were a mixed bag. “Corporate is a little soft whereas ski groups and leisure groups are very strong,” reports Bryce Fraser, general manager.

At Shanty Creek, Mich., passes were up with groups and social business; holiday reservations were even with last year. Early pass sales were up 21 percent at Crystal Mt., Mich., but that was before the snow came. “Opening on Thanksgiving sent the phones ringing for late pass purchasers (at full price),” says Joan O’Neill, PR director.

After its longest, most successful season ever last year, passes and lodging reservations were up double digits at Snowbird, Ut. “We’re tracking well,” says David Fields, PR director.

Even the Northwest, coming off its worst season ever, was looking good early on.

“We’re off to a great early start,” says Tiana Enger, sales and marketing director at Crystal Mt., Wash. Crystal opened November 4 (earliest ever) with 50 inches of snow and 13,000 skiers over the first three days. Season pass sales were up and memories of last year were receding fast.

Big Sky, Mont., was a little tougher to read. The area’s new joint season pass with Moonlight Basin was selling slowly and early lodging reservations were also flat. “We’re confident we’ll make those up,” says Dax Schieffer, PR manager.

Whistler, too, had an early season “mixed bag.” The regional market bought 28 percent more frequent skier and rider cards, but fewer season passes (which are not heavily discounted). Meanwhile, the destination market bought fewer book-and-buy stays (which are heavily discounted). “We extended the deadline for our preseason packages by two weeks, and are not that far off considering last year,” says Christina Moore, PR director. “Overall, we feel pretty comfortable, especially with the early snow we’ve had,.”

Destination Skiers
Speaking of destination skiers, early numbers indicated that market is in the second year of a strong recovery from its post-9/11 slump.

“Advance reservations pretty much across the country are up over last year, which was also strong in its early season,” Garrison says. “People booked early this year, led by English-speaking internationals—9/11 scared the international marketplace.”

Garrison says advance bookings were up 15 percent by August 31, nine percent by September 30, and four percent by October 31. During those same three months, the country went through two major hurricanes which greatly impacted the price of gasoline and fuel oil.

Mark Uhlefelder, senior vice president of in Aspen, which books reservations at most of the world’s largest ski resorts, agreed the news is indeed good. As of the end of November (pretty much the halfway point of the booking season), he said overall reservations were up 36 percent over last year. The total number of passengers booked was up 23 percent, and the average per person cost of a package was up 3.1 percent.

Other trends include slightly larger groups, a slightly longer stay, and increasing willingness on the part of skiers to book their stays entirely online without ever speaking to a person. “Ten years ago it took four phone calls to close an average booking,” he says. “That’s down to three, and in some cases, none as more people book entirely by e-mail.”

Check back here in May to find out if the second half of the booking season was as good as the first.