Good snow recession-proof in New England
NEWRY, Maine ” The economy may be melting down, but the snow keeps piling up at New England’s big ski mountains, enabling them to dodge the avalanche of bad news about job losses and business failures.
For the region’s ski operators, plentiful snow appears to be trumping hard times.
Sugarloaf and Sunday River, Maine’s two largest ski resorts, enjoyed record snowfall and skier visits last winter and could equal those numbers this year, said spokeswoman Darcy Liberty.
“In stressful economic times, skiing provides a great outlet to have fun. And if you do your homework, you can find some really great package deals,” Liberty said.
Skiers said they’ll cut back on other expenses before giving up their cherished trips to the slopes.
“Skiing has been part of our life for decades. We budget for it, and it’s something that we’re not prepared to give up,” said Brenda VanDecker, of Casco.
But with all the economic uncertainty, VanDecker and her husband decided they should be cautious with their spending this year. They’re skipping their customary ski trip to Utah and hitting the slopes closer to home.
“For this year we decided, why not do it in our backyard? Ski locally,” she said.
The Ski Maine Association, which represents 37 downhill and cross-country ski areas across the state, agrees that snow is the most vital ingredient in their success or failure. While the economy remains a concern, nature has delivered its own stimulus package this year.
“We’ve had Christmases when it’s been 50 degrees and no snow on the ground. That is called an economic meltdown,” said Greg Sweetser, the association’s executive director.
Vermont’s Killington, where snowfall as of Thursday totaled 215 inches, or 15 inches more than at the same point last year, says it’s running slightly ahead of last season in terms of skier visits.
“The overwhelming message this year has been the snow,” said Killington spokesman Tom Horrocks. “One thing that the ski industry has seen over a number of recessions over the past 30 years is that any time the snow has been good, the ski industry has done well. Any time the snow has not been up to par, there’s been a significant downturn.”
Industry officials recall winters in which a scarcity of snow caused the industry to tank despite a robust economy.
Two years ago, a good economy and lousy ski weather combined for a region-wide dropoff in business, said Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association in Lakewood, Colo. “It’s all weather-related.”
Still, worries about the economy appear to be prompting some skiers to reduce the length of their trips. In addition, registrations are coming with a much shorter lead time, to the point where 40 percent of vacations at Killington have been booked within three or four days of arrival, Horrocks said.
To prod skiers and snowboarders onto the slopes, Killington has been offering incentives and deals. For example, the resort announced last week that it was offering 1,000 one-day lift tickets good on any weekday during Presidents Day week for $50 each, rather than the regular rate of $77. Horrocks said the tickets sold out in under three hours.
“We saw that the presidents week was a little soft,” he said. “So we wanted to put a little stimulus in there to stimulate not only our business, but the Killington-area economy.”
Liberty agreed that even as the snow piles up at Sunday River and Sugarloaf, which as of Thursday had respective totals of 115 inches and 138 inches, the resorts can’t ignore the challenges posed by troubles in the broader economy.
“It’s something we keep an eye on,” she said, noting that the resorts also have offered weekend deals and other incentives for skiers keeping an eye on their bank balances.
One major cost-saving measure is proximity: Resorts throughout the region have heard from skiers like VanDecker, who scrapped plans to vacation in the Rockies in favor of the slopes of New England.
“When you do that, it obviously gives you a lot of days to get out in the East,” said Karl Stone, marketing director of Ski New Hampshire, which represents 37 ski areas in his state.
Business at New Hampshire’s ski areas has been “surprisingly good,” according to Stone, who cites “the backyard effect” of plentiful snow in key markets like eastern Massachusetts, Rhode Island and southern New Hampshire.
“It’s great whenever we get a foot of snow up here, but it’s that much better if they get the same amount of snow down there,” he said.