Browse Our Archives

March 2023

Durable Demand

Despite weather extremes, the 2022-23 season reached the halfway mark with strong demand and visits. 

Written by Linda Goodspeed | 0 comment
Snowriver, Mich., GM Benjamin Bartz measures pre-holiday snow in body lengths. Snowriver, Mich., GM Benjamin Bartz measures pre-holiday snow in body lengths.


Mother Nature tried her hardest to disrupt the all-important Christmas and MLK holidays this season, unleashing atmospheric rivers and monster snowfalls in some regions, polar vortexes, high winds, and flash freezes in others, and record warmth and rain in still others. Once again, ski resorts proved up to the challenge, and no matter the weather, operators reported strong demand.

Does that mean the old industry truism that snowfall dictates demand is dead? Not exactly. Snow is still a key driver and lack of it is still our greatest existential threat. But this season does seem to be continuing the trend from last winter of a slight divorce of demand from weather. 



Early snow boosts the West. Despite losing power for five days beginning New Year’s Day, Sundance, Utah, had record visits over the holiday period. Czar Johnson, VP of operations, attributed the growth to great early snow and expanded snowmaking. “We were able to get 100 percent of our terrain open going into the holiday week. Snowmaking played a huge role in that for us.”

At the same time, the resort’s new 40-acre mid-mountain expansion helped keep crowding down, and its paid parking program has greatly cut down on the number of vehicles driving to the mountain. “We’re averaging over 40 percent of vehicles parking at Sundance with four-plus people in their cars,” Johnson said. 

Continued snowfall was driving strong demand for the rest of the Sundance season, with lodging for February pacing a little ahead of last year. “Overall, the month looks very good,” said Blain Wilkey, VP of sales and marketing. “We have a very deep base of snow. It’s helping momentum, both in leisure and group bookings.” 

“We are up for the holidays over last year, which was a good year,” said Jesse True, VP of marketing and skier services at Arapahoe Basin, Colo. “Weekend demand is very strong. We’re on an upward trend along with many of our neighbors.”

True said A-Basin, which limits both season pass and day ticket sales, sold out all of its passes, as well as day tickets two days over MLK weekend. “We expect to sell out day tickets probably the next six to seven Saturdays, and maybe Sundays,” True said in mid-January. “Demand looks really strong.”

Montana persists. Bridger Bowl, Mont., “has not had a ton of snow,” said Erin O’Connor, marketing and communications director, but “demand and visits are up—both passes and day tickets.”

The resort did have to close for two days before Christmas because of arctic cold. “It wasn’t terrible,” O’Connor said. “Many of our neighbors also had to close. The majority of [visitors] were able to move their dates.”

MLK this season was also strong and marked the beginning of Bridger’s multi-week programs for adults and youth, which bring a lot of people up to the mountain. The valley’s huge growth during the pandemic has helped fuel demand, although staffing remains a challenge, as does parking. Like many ski resorts, Bridger Bowl is trying to encourage carpooling and public transportation. 



Staffing; extreme weather. Mt. Bachelor, Ore., director of marketing and communication Johnny Sereni said having a full staff helped the resort overcome low snow and some bad weather over the holidays. “We were able to operate at full capacity when the wind and weather allowed us,” he said. “Demand was very much the same as previous years. Having a full staff roster was the key to our success.”

Extreme weather caused some spotty closures in the Midwest. Snow Trails, Ohio, had to close three days at Christmas because of arctic cold and high winds. “The timing wasn’t too bad,” noted GM Scott Crislip. “We usually close Christmas anyway. It allowed for some good snowmaking. We got 100 percent of our terrain open and had some amazing conditions.”

Overall, Crislip said the start to the season had been good. “Pre-season pass sales were strong. Walk-up attendance has been good. The holiday week was better than last year.”

Demand was down at Snowriver, Mich., compared to the previous two Covid winters but “right in line with our longer-term averages for visitation,” said GM Benjamin Bartz.

New ownership, too. A pre-Christmas blizzard caused some operational disruption (see above), but that wasn’t the only challenge facing Snowriver over the holiday period. The resort was acquired by Midwest Family Ski Resorts in late August, which presented some speed bumps that can come with new ownership: new leadership, new processes, new point of sale systems, and a new name for the resort (formerly Big Snow). Plus, supply chain disruptions, which caused delays in renovations, and staffing shortages.

“It was not exactly a recipe for smooth sailing,” Bartz said. “We were forced to close the day before Christmas. Christmas day we opened with reduced lifts and terrain due to the limited staff available. Thanks to the efforts of our dedicated team, we were able to power through and get 100 percent open for the day after Christmas. Throughout the holiday week we saw great conditions and lots of guests out enjoying the much-improved winter weather.”

Too much snow was the major challenge at Peek’n Peak in western New York, where the Buffalo blizzard caused the resort to shorten operating hours just before the Christmas holiday. After reopening, wind and deep snow taxed staff to constantly alter operations.

Caitlyn Mosher, guest services manager, said holiday numbers were “respectable,” with many more first-time skiers and riders than usual. “We spent much of our time educating guests. We continued to have a more beginner atmosphere, [with guests] that only skied for a limited amount of the day.”

February was tracking very strong, thanks to an early month arctic blast and 24/7 snowmaking, said Mosher. “All trails are open. We’ve gotten the word out, and are looking to sell out lodging, condos, and day tickets.”  



Lack of snow in Northeast. Blizzard conditions would have been a welcome change in the Northeast where warm weather and untimely, unfrozen (read: rain) events hampered the first half of the season.

“All things considered (this season’s usual response to inquiries about business), we had a really great holiday week,” said Ethan Austin, marketing director at Sugarloaf, Maine. Visits were flat or slightly ahead of last season, and revenues were up. “Weather has been the biggest limiting factor this year,” he said.

Like most of the Northeast, Sugarloaf opened later than usual. A dump of snow in early December lifted spirits, but then a soaking rainstorm two days before Christmas dampened them again. Still, said Austin, “We lucked out a bit with the weather [getting more snow than rain in the storm cycles]. The rain didn’t impact our terrain too much. We had great skiing most of the week.” 

But with February starting with a deep freeze, the resort’s far northern location might hurt more than help. “I think some people might stay away for that reason, the bitter cold,” he said. Once that blast moderates, Austin said the month is “looking good.”

Yet, they come. The inconsistencies did not discourage visitors to Vermont. “All things considered, we’re relatively on point,” said Bryan Rivard, Ski Vermont communications director. “The weather has been a challenge. Aside from that, we’re still seeing on-par bookings with last year.”

Despite the rain before Christmas and then again before MLK, there were “no big cancellations,” he said. “There’s definitely high demand out there. I think it’s due to additional programming resorts have done to provide other activities.”

Bolton Valley, Vt., continued its five-year upward trend with record visits over the holiday periods, said Scott Pellegrini, director of sales and marketing. Despite some vacancies at the hotel, the area’s location near Burlington and large local passholder and ticket base kept visits high. 

Visits were also way up over last year at Bryce Resort, Va., and Snowshoe, W.Va.

“Our numbers for December this year were way ahead of where they were last year,” said Bryce marketing director Andrew DeVier-Scott. “We’ve seen a significant increase in demand over the holiday period this year.”

He said a new lift and better staffing has helped keep crowding down despite the increased numbers. Additionally, the mountain had 100 percent of its terrain open by Dec. 26.

Arctic temps aid snowmaking. The unseasonable pre-holiday cold was a boon for Snowshoe as well. “This year we had an arctic blast just before Christmas and got in tons of snowmaking,” said PR specialist Shawn Cassell. “The mountain was packed all week.”

Despite thin staffing over the holiday, Snowshoe was able to open 190 of its 268 acres, including some terrain parks. However, “Mornings, we had to hold our breath to see if everybody showed up to run the lifts,” said Cassell.

Every weekend through February was pacing strong, he said. “Even the first weekend in March is looking good. It sounds like there’s not a lot of room for growth on weekends,” he added, “so our focus in marketing will definitely be on midweek.”

Snow is king. Of course, snow is still the lynchpin in this story. That strong mid-season demand would be realized, said Cassell, “as long as the weather holds out. It seems for every day of snow, we get three days of rain.”

Ski areas have proven their ability to adapt and attract visitors regardless of the weather—but snow will always be the main attraction.