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Mountain Lodging Surges, But Some Skier Visits Off to a Slow Start

Ski and snowboard industry news from last week pointed to signs of a slow recovery from last season’s rough ride, although December snow and mountain lodging numbers have many in the industry hoping for a late-season uptick.

Snowstorms that finally materialized in mid-to-late December did contribute to a partial rebound in occupancy during December and also created a significant boost for advance reservations for the remainder of the season, according to the most recent data released by the Mountain Travel Research Program (MTRiP). Despite the eleventh-hour arrival of snow, participating mountain resorts posted an aggregated 7.9 percent decline in actual occupancy for the month of December. But even with decreased occupancy, the Average Daily Rate (ADR) ticked up for the 19th consecutive month—posting an average 2.6 percent increase compared to December 2011.

“What a difference a month makes,” says Ralf Garrison, director of MTRiP.  “Mother Nature finally delivered some much-needed snow from coast to coast just in time for the Christmas holidays, and the fresh powder really helped fill some December lodging vacancies at ski resorts as well as generated buzz and bookings for January and February.”

Among participating resorts, the booking pace for December was up 10.4 percent compared to last year for arrivals in December through May 2013. The new snow also gave a boost to January bookings with a 3.5 percent increase in on-the-books occupancy as of December 31 and a 7.9 percent increase in the ADR compared to last January.  The data for the upcoming six months was also mostly positive with February currently up 8.6 percent and May and June showing slight increases. However, March and April are still running behind 2012.

In the West, Colorado Ski Country USA (CSCUSA) reported that total skier visits at its 21 member resorts decreased 11.5 percent during the first period of the 2012-13 ski season, defined as opening day through December 31, 2012, compared to the same period last year.
Several factors contributed to the first-period totals, most notably the variable snow conditions and a few late openings. “First period is largely fueled by in-state visitors, and an unseasonably warm October and November kept many Coloradans from tallying lots of ski days,” said Melanie Mills, president and CEO of CSCUSA. “Snow did not arrive in earnest until mid-December, but when it came, it was in time for in-state and out-of-state guests to enjoy wonderful wintery holidays at resorts.”

Ski areas saw a strong holiday period with conditions more in line with an average year. Resorts started the New Year reaping benefits of the December storms, which adds to the energy and excitement of skiers in Colorado and bodes well for the rest of the season. “There is some real buoyancy in the indicators for the months ahead: February and March hotel bookings are pacing ahead of last year by 3.5% and 8.6% respectively, according to MTRiP; Carnival and Easter are well-timed for ski visitation this year and Colorado’s traditional snowier months lie ahead,” said Mills.

- Peter Kray