Western mountain resorts uncertain about 2012-13


With the memory of a horrible ski season still fresh in their minds, skiers and snowboarders headed to western resorts are looking forward to the new season with a fair amount of apprehension.

“The summer season was impressive for participating western resorts but pretty much everyone is now watching the Weather Channel, checking the Farmer’s Almanac, and getting their snow dance ensembles cleaned and pressed,” said Joan Christianson of the Denver-based Mountain Travel Research Program (MTRiP) data collection agency.

In the Eastern Sierra, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area is hedging its bets, offering an “early booking snow guarantee.” If guests book a winter trip before Opening Day (Nov. 8) and there is no or little snow, they can either cash in a $100 gift card or move their reservation dates.

Similar types of promotions are happening all over the West, from Colorado to Utah to California.

Resort operators have the yips for good reason, beyond last year’s disaster.

Looking forward to winter, results are mixed at this early point in the booking season.

The “average daily rate”(ADR) is down very slightly—0.3 percent for the period.

Based on MTRiP data collected through Aug. 31, year-over-year occupancy for the five months from October through February 2013 is projected to be up by 5.6 percent compared to the same period last year, with every month showing increases except December.


Data is derived from a sample of approximately 260 property management companies in 16 mountain destination communities, representing 24,000 rooms across Colorado, Utah, California, and Oregon.

But there are other factors at work in the forecast model, Christianson said.

The monthly MTRiP report tracks a variety of economic indicators and provides analysis on the variables that may impact the mountain lodging industry.

On the positive side, the Dow Jones was up very slightly for the third consecutive month and also posted the 11th year-over-year gain in the past 12 months. Overall, the market index was up 12.7 percent from the previous August.

A slight dip in the Consumer Price Index was also considered a good sign.

On the negative side, though, the sixth decline in the Consumer Confidence Index since last January is a concern among likely visitors and is likely the result of continued concerns about unemployment that remains over eight percent.

Moreover, the second consecutive monthly increase in crude oil prices was listed as a worrisome variable because of its widespread impact on everything from travel costs to consumer goods requiring transportation.

“As we enter the fifth season of an economic ‘weak-covery,’ we’re seeing near-record market performance accompanied by sputtering job growth and discouraging unemployment and earning figures,” said Ralf Garrison, director of MTRiP.

“Plus, consumers are being bombarded with political messages from both political parties with dire predictions if the other candidate wins while skiers and snowboarders are still recovering from the no-snow hangover of last season.

“So, as we move into the prime winter booking season, messages are mixed and the next several months will be very interesting as mountain visitors keep a close watch on whether the storm clouds deliver on hopes and expectations—for both plentiful snow and better economic news.”