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November 2022

Post-Pandemic Predictions

After two years of Covid, what do resort operators expect this winter?

Written by Linda Goodspeed | 0 comment

“Covid has been very good for us. We’ve had a great couple of years,” said Ryan Locher, general manager at Bryce Resort, Va. It’s not what the ski industry expected in March 2020, when resorts had to suddenly shut down at the beginning of the pandemic. But thanks to some creative operational adjustments and people’s desire to get out of the house, the industry has had a successful couple of years. Last year, the second winter of Covid restrictions, a record 60.7 million people took to the slopes. 

But now, as restrictions have all but evaporated, more activities are opening up that compete for consumers’ leisure time and money. Add to that airline chaos, rising prices, and the highest inflation in 40 years, not to mention weather uncertainties, and what lies ahead for the ski industry for 2022-23? If early pass sales are any indication, more optimism. 


Among the best news for this upcoming winter is the return of Sierra-at-Tahoe, Calif., which was closed all last season because of wildfire damage.

“We are optimistic that the resort will be fully open, all lifts and trails open, and are forecasting normal business volumes based on history,” said John Rice, general manager. “More than 50 percent of season passholders kept their pass despite being closed and have indicated they want to come back.”

Rice also anticipates continued visitation from new markets, “as we saw upwards of 35 percent of guests who identified as non-white ethnicity. As the market becomes more diverse, Sierra is well positioned to serve this growing demand, from snow play and first-time lessons all the way to season pass loyalty.”

Pass sales on pace. Elsewhere, Dodge Ridge, Calif., general manager Jenni Smith said preseason pass sales are on pace to meet or exceed last year’s record. And at Ragged Mountain, N.H., GM Erik Barnes said pass sales are up seven percent.

“We’ve seen awesome growth since Covid,” added Kyle Matzke, Ragged marketing manager. “As the mega resorts continue to expand, I think more of the market is looking for mom-and-pop, family-oriented areas. It creates more opportunity for us.” Demand has been so strong, Matzke said, that the resort can no longer offer its BeBe Wood learn-to-ski program on weekends; it will now be offered only Monday through Thursday.

At Whiteface, N.Y., pass sales also continue to rise year over year, said Darcy Rowe Norfolk, director of communications at the Olympic Regional Development Authority. “Our loyal customers keep coming back.”

Different faces. And it’s not only loyal customers, many new and lapsed customers are also coming back, said Scott Crislip, general manager at Snow Trails, Ohio.

“During the pandemic, lots of indoor activities were put on hold, and we had a good opportunity to get those folks,” Crislip said. “Those activities are opening up. People may go back to their old ways, but we got a lot of them interested in snow sports, and I think they’ll stick with it.”

He noted that early pass sales and summer retail sales were strong.

A return to travel. Big White in British Columbia, which saw local passholders balloon during the pandemic, is expecting to see some of its international guests return with the easing of Covid travel restrictions.

“Vancouver air travel is opening up. The Washington state fly market is very strong, pre-pandemic strong. Australia is coming off a very successful winter season—we just don’t have enough flights,” said Michael Ballingall, Big White senior VP, sales and marketing.

Flights from Toronto are plentiful, but Ballingall said they have nearly doubled in price. “The path to the resort is not as easy,” he said. 

“On the bright side, our seven-day packages are looking very healthy,” he said, and predicted business levels this winter will be about 80 percent of normal; “Our last normal season was 2018-19.”

At Telluride, Colo., where summer business was down slightly from 2021’s “off the charts” pace, Patrick Latcham, VP, sales and marketing, said the lifting of Covid travel restrictions will likely cut both ways for the ski industry. “Ultimately, some guests will decide to go international, and some of our international guests, particularly from Australia, will decide to come here,” he speculated.

So far, he said, early lodging and ticket sales are on pace with last winter.

Back to early pass sales. At Saskadena Six, Vt. (formerly Suicide Six), resort president Courtney Lowe said early pass sales are starting to pick up after a slower-than-last-year start. “I think we’re getting back to more normal buying habits,” he said. 

Lowe added the last two seasons were strong, with many new skiers. “The community has grown tremendously the last two years,” he said. “People transplanted themselves to Vermont. The community here is very dedicated to the mountain. We’re introducing kids at younger ages—3 to 5 years old—to skiing, and we are preparing for that to continue.”  


Staffing remains the biggest challenge for many ski resorts.

Staff shortages. “We’re running a little leaner than we’d like,” said Snow Trail’s Crislip. “We’d like to have a little more buffer. We’re trying to keep up with competition as far as wages, good working environment. We’re bringing in a lot of 16- and 17-year-olds.”

“We’ve definitely struggled with staffing the last couple of years,” added Locher at Bryce. “We were able to continue our normal operating hours, but it was a struggle. Many employees had to do double duty. It wasn’t easy.” The resort  is bringing in some J-1 workers this season, which should help, he said.

“Staffing always gets a little nerve-wracking,” said Matzke at Ragged, which was unable to open one of its restaurants last season because of staffing shortages. This season, Ragged raised its minimum wage to $17 an hour in hopes of attracting more workers. 

Loss of housing. Meanwhile, at Big White, which lost a significant amount of its employee bed base when local homeowners sold during the pandemic and new owners did not rent out rooms, staffing shortages have been felt across the resort. “It’s affected all aspects of F&B, retail, babysitting, private lessons,” Ballingall said. “We can’t find chefs, line cooks, housekeepers. Servers are OK because tipping has increased, and they can afford to pay more for housing.

“Normally, we hire 230 ski instructors,” he continued. “Last winter, we topped out at 64. We literally have people looking for staff beds every day. It’s very similar to the way we used to operate in the late ’80s and ’90s when we didn’t have a big bed base. We’re looking at running more buses back and forth to town, which is 45 minutes away.”

Multiple fronts. Smith said staffing is also the number-one concern at Dodge Ridge. “We are working on multiple fronts to address recruiting and staffing, including possible employee housing, employee transportation and carpooling, creative community events and job fairs/community involvement, working directly with nearby junior colleges and high schools, and employee referral programs,” said Smith. “We have increased starting wages for all departments, and increased returning employees and year-round employees’ wages as well.”

Solitude, Utah, is also working to expand its existing employee carpool and rideshare programs. “We’re feeling good about meeting our staffing needs,” said Travis Holland, PR manager. “In addition to strong returning employee rates and J-1 participation, this will be our first season utilizing the H-2B visa program. Through that program, we’ve been approved to hire guest service attendants, room attendants, and restaurant servers this winter.”

Effects of inflation. Rising prices are also a major concern. But most resorts, particularly drive-to resorts, believe guests will not put off vacation plans. “There’s a lot of revenge travel happening,” said Lowe at Saskadena Six. 

“Prices are up everywhere,” noted Rice at Sierra-at-Tahoe. “We’ve found through history that people keep their recreation plans.”  


Covid necessitated numerous operational changes, many of which are here to stay: a focus on cleanliness; digital solutions; enhanced customer service; advance purchase; and limiting ticket and pass sales to improve the guest experience, to name a few. 

Lessons. At Bryce, Locher said Covid drastically changed the way the resort teaches lessons—a change that will continue. “We teach private lessons only,” he said. “The only group lessons are family pods. We don’t allow other guests to come in. It’s worked really well for us, and we are going to continue it. The customer experience is great.”

Big White is seeing something similar, said Ballingall. “We’re seeing a big upswing in multiple generations of families meeting at the mountain,” he said, a change he attributed to so many lapsed skiers returning to the sport. 

“Two or three generations in hotels, condos, holiday gatherings, family dining tables in restaurants, lessons. These lessons are not so much lessons as guided tours of the mountain,” Ballingall said.

Early January? At Telluride, Latcham is keeping an eye on early January. Because of the way Christmas falls and schools break, he thinks some of the holiday traffic may spill over into the new year.

“Early January can be a slow time,” he noted. “I think we’ll see a strong early January this ski season.”

If the last two years are an indication, he’s likely right. People have discovered they like getting out of the house, and what better venue than the mountains?