US Skier Visits Declined 13.9 Percent Last Season

American ski resorts were on track for their fourth best season in history before coronavirus forced closures, according to data released today by the National Ski Areas Association. Spring traditionally accounts for about 20 percent of total visitation and the shortened season yielded a total of 51.1 million skier days. On the heels of 59.3 million skiers in 2018/19, 2019/20 will go down as the worst season since 2011/12 and second worst since 1991/92.

Despite visitation declining in all six NSAA regions, there is reason for optimism. “To have two years in a row potentially rank in the top five seasons ever shows the strength of the industry,” said NSAA President and CEO Kelly Pawlak, referring to the 2018/19 winter and truncated 2019/20 season. “That being said, it is astounding how quickly this season went from promising to a complete disappointment.” The impact of snowfall, traditionally a major factor in visitation, was difficult to assess this year due to many resorts ending reporting in mid-March.

The Kottke National End of Season Survey also revealed six fewer operational areas in 2019/20 with a total of 470. Each resort was open an average of only 99 days, down from 121 in the 2018/19 season. That means each resort averaged about 108,000 visits. A skier visit is defined as a skiing or snowboarding guest visiting a resort for any part of a day.

The industry group estimates COVID-19 will cost resorts at least $2 billion and as much as $5 billion depending on continued impacts during the 2020/21 season. Within weeks of closing early, many resorts opted to delay capital projects such as new lifts planned for next winter. At least nine major projects were postponed in the month of April. As of today, new lift orders are pacing almost 30 percent below last year.

News Roundup: Ripple Effect

  • Saddleback demolishes the Rangeley double to make room for its upcoming high speed quad.
  • Debt-laden Ski Granby Ranch lays off all its employees and won’t issue refunds to guests with canceled vacations.
  • The $2.2 trillion phase three stimulus package passed by Congress doesn’t include assistance specifically for ski areas but there is hope phase four might.
  • Vail Resorts borrows more than $500 million from existing lines of credit in order to increase its cash position and maintain financial flexibility during the outbreak.
  • While many Leitner-Poma staffers work from home, a skeleton crew continues production.
  • Even in hard-hit Italy, one major lift customer plans to commence construction as soon as the immediate health danger has passed.
  • Many Doppelmayr employees are also working from home and production continues in Wolfurt.
  • Aspen Snowmass intends to complete all capital projects as planned this summer including the $10.8 million Big Burn chairlift.
  • Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz personally donates $2.5 million to mountain community charities and an employee assistance fund.
  • Yet another lift project cancelled by Vail Resorts: replacement of Peachtree at Crested Butte this summer.
  • NSAA estimates costs from early closings and lost pass sales will exceed $2 billion in the United States and forecasts capital spending will plunge 50 percent this year.
  • Magic Mountain’s Geoff Hatheway offers a small ski area perspective on COVID-19.
  • Coronavirus may impact the review timeline for Snow King Mountain’s proposed expansion and other projects on Forest Service lands.
  • Katharina Schmitz officially takes the reigns of Doppelmayr USA from Mark Bee, who retired on March 31st.
  • Boyne Resorts estimates $22 million in lost revenue as a result of this winter’s abrupt end.
  • The Vietnamese developer behind both the world’s longest and tallest 3S gondolas plans another island-hopping 3S in the country’s north.

News Roundup: More Towers

  • MND Group subsidiary LST will build its third US ropeway this summer, a T-Bar replacing this Hall one in McCall, Idaho.
  • Copper confirms the new American Flyer will get more towers to “support and optimize” the lift.
  • This incredible timelapse of the longest lift in the world gets a lot of attention on Reddit.
  • US skiers and snowboarders came out 59.1 million times this season, a nearly 11 percent increase over 2017-18 and the fourth best participation ever.
  • The National Ski Areas Association launches a charitable foundation to grant money to resort employees to attend conferences such as LMS and RMLA.
  • West Virginia’s closed Timberline Four Seasons Resort files for bankruptcy.
  • A Vermont sheriff can no longer find Hermitage Club founder Jim Barnes to serve him with legal papers related to the ski resort’s closure.
  • In Serbia, Poma will realize the longest gondola in the world at 5.6 miles in two sections.
  • The year round, high speed quad-served bike park experiment in New Zealand gets a $3.3 million government bailout to keep operating.
  • If you want a retired Steamboat Gondola cabin, Sunshine Polishing is acquiring 105 of them.
  • Bogus Basin’s old Riblet chairs are selling for an average price of $1,775 apiece.

News Roundup: Study

IMG_8181
I’m in Colorado for a few days checking out this year’s new lifts. There are six!

News Roundup: Photos

  • Bear Valley seeks a name for its new six-pack.
  • While we wait for D-Line to come to North America, check out this one going up in Austria.
  • Fly day photos from Pats Peak show major Skytrac upgrades to Ascutney’s old Snowdance triple.
  • I was asked by ANSI to link to the new B77.1-2017 Standard for Passenger Ropeways, which replaces the 2011 version.
  • See how Sun Valley swaps a haul rope.
  • Connecticut’s Woodbury Ski Area, with one 1976 Hall double, is for sale.
  • As NSAA weighs its future again, industry leaders chime in anonymously on aging lifts and more.
  • Proposed Steamboat budget includes $3.78 million to replace the Burrows chairlift at Howelsen Hill with a fixed-grip quad in 2019.
  • Powder and others spread headlines that Colorado resorts are adding more roller coasters than chairlifts this season.  However they missed Copper Mountain’s new high-speed quad and counted Vail Resorts’ four new detachables separately from Colorado Ski Country USA.  The state as a whole is actually adding its most new lifts since 2013 (six) and fewer mountain coasters (four.)