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SAM Magazine—West Dover, Vt., Feb. 9, 2024—It’s that time of year again, when folks gather for a bit of networking, education, and snow sliding at the National Ski Areas Association winter conferences.

More than 500 operators and suppliers descended on Keystone, Colo., Jan. 17-19, for the NSAA Western Conference. After a rough start to the season, many attendees were asking each other whether Christmas is still the best benchmark for the season. The early season brought catastrophic flooding, warm temps, and, conversely, artic temps, as well as hurricane force winds to various corners of the country. But, as one operator noted, we in the industry often suffer from short-term memory loss once the snow starts flying—and did it ever during the few days folks were gathered at Keystone, making for one of the more powder-filled and memorable conference first tracks sessions in recent years.

A couple weeks later, roughly 520 operators and suppliers gathered at Mount Snow, Vt., Feb. 6-7, for the Eastern Conference, where the talk in the aisles was much the same, with attendees ruminating on the ground they need to make up after a slow start to the season. Some were already speculating that skier visit numbers would be down from the past two record-breaking seasons. 

Given the low natural snow across the country, snowmaking was in the spotlight at the conferences. Sessions on collecting better snowmaking efficiency data were well attended in both the East and West. The winners of the HKD-sponsored I AM a Snowmaker competition were also announced live on Tuesday night at the Eastern show—New York’s Greek Peak took the top prize with the most votes by a wide margin. 

News that Alterra had acquired A-Basin dropped just before Eastern show kicked off, and there was considerable chatter about the deal on the trade show floor. As one attendee noted, consolidation often leads to lost clients for some suppliers who have been working with the acquired resorts for years. 

Both events cover most of the same topics in the educational sessions, but with different panelists who bring region-appropriate insights. Sessions hit a wide variety of topics: AI; slips, trips, and falls; data collection; the guest experience; workforce housing; and more. 

AI remains a topic of keen interest. Workforce challenges, from recruiting to housing, are also critical conversations. Operational efficiency and sustainability were covered in various ways. There were even some lessons learned from international operators, with a session on the guest experience looking to Europe for inspiration on snow play activities and another on France’s Les Trois Vallées offering inspiration from “the largest ski area in the world.”

Despite the strain of a slow start to the season, personnel from ski areas of all sizes brought their energy and optimism to both events, contributing to the camaraderie that is custom to the ski industry.