High travel costs lead to incentives from resorts | VailDaily.com

High travel costs lead to incentives from resorts

Bob Berwyn
Summit County Correspondent
Vail CO, Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colorado ” Matching or breaking last season’s record number of skier visits may be as much a function of the economy as of good snow conditions, according to some industry experts.

Other resort executives said the underlying passion for the sport among its participants is enough to overcome economic adversity ” as long as the powder piles up deep and fluffy.

In either case, some Colorado ski resorts aren’t taking any chances as they prepare for the upcoming season.

“We don’t want anything like a baggage fee or fuel prices or a sluggish economy to prevent people from skiing in Colorado,” said Jennifer Rudolph, spokeswoman for Colorado Ski Country USA, the industry’s trade association.

To that end, Colorado Ski Country recently unveiled a series of incentives aimed at encouraging people to continue visiting Colorado.

The state is coming off its second-best season ever in terms of skier visits, and industry officials hope the steps will maintain that positive momentum.

Rudolph said Colorado resorts are making it easier than ever to rent top-notch gear, which helps travelers avoid increased or new baggage fees they might have to pay by bringing their own gear.

Durango Mountain Resort is offering a 10-percent discount for visitors who book early, while Crested Butte has launched a friends-and-family-fly-free deal. Steamboat even will partially offset the cost of baggage fees with a $25 gift card.

“It’s a great example of resorts working with airlines to make it easy for people to travel to Colorado,” Rudolph said.

Potential challenges

Last year’s record skier visits were definitely helped by outstanding snow conditions.

“It came early and it came hard,” said Troy Hawks, of the National Ski Areas Association. “Snow is one of the main driving factors.”

But industry execs are keeping a wary eye on the economy, he added. The economy was a topic of discussion at the NSAA’s annual convention in May.

“Some people are anticipating a challenging season, some are taking a wait-and-see-what-happens approach,” Hawks said.

The annual Kottke end-of-season survey, compiled for the ski areas association by a research firm, suggests that snow conditions can trump high fuel costs and other economic concerns.

” While favorable snowfall provided a powerful boost to the ski industry, the gains occurred notwithstanding a deteriorating economic climate, illustrating the resilience of the industry and much of its customer base to macroeconomic fluctuations, the report concluded.

“The quality of the snow overcame deteriorating economic conditions … including declining consumer confidence,” said Nolan Rosall, of RRC Associates, the research firm that compiles the report. “We also saw some patterns that reflected peoples’ desire to cut back on expenses,” he added. People still wanted to ski. But with good conditions locally, there were fewer destination trips.

The ski industry may be partially insulated from economic factors, Rosall explained.

“Because skiing appeals to a more affluent clientele … they are more flexible … but (the economy) has the potential to really impact disccretionary spending. There are so many variables. … There’s quite a bit of concern if things don’t improve, and there’s no indication that things will really rally. Most people think we’ll be muddling along for a while,” Rosall said. “We may not be able to count on record snows this year. … but it’s certainly not a doomsday scenario.

Local perspective

Executives with Summit County resorts viewed the economy as just one of many factors influencing the prospects for the coming season.

“Think about the American psyche. Vacations are sacrosanct. People work hard, and they want their vacations,” said Lucy Kay, Breckenridge Resort vice president and chief operating officer.

Because of federal laws governing corporate behavior, Vail Resorts executives say they can’t comment directly on predictions for skier visits. But Kay said that each year has its own specific challenges.

“We start each season with a clean slate,” Kay said, adding that Vail Resorts’ new five-mountain Epic pass may have been a well-timed move, given the current economic uncertainties.

“When there’s good snow, people come out … We always find a way,” said Keystone vice president and chief operating officer Pat Campbell.

“We’re lucky. Passion drives our sport,” she continued. “Every year is different … the economy is different. Our strategy is to step and see how we can add value and provide the best experience for our guests.”

Campbell added that the new gondola at Keystone promises to be a draw for skiers.

“We’re always concerned about the economy,” said Alan Henceroth, vice president and chief operating officer at Arapahoe Basin. “But we think that, with the high-quality Colorado winters, especially here in Summit County, we’re well-positioned to handle economic downturns.”

Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at bberwyn@summitdaily.com.

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