Ski industry drops off gently |

Ski industry drops off gently

Associated Press Writer

PORTLAND, Maine ” The economy may have fallen off a cliff last year, but the ski industry’s drop was a lot more gentle.

Preliminary figures show there were 57.1 million visits to ski slopes across the country during the past winter, a 5.5 percent decline from the record 60.5 million visits the year before.

It could’ve been worse without favorable weather in most parts of the country that helped offset the slumping economy, the National Ski Areas Association said Friday.

The figures were released as ski executives attended the association’s annual convention and trade show in Florida, where spokesman Troy Hawks said many ski managers felt they had dodged a bullet.

“The positive thing is that it was a fairly strong snow year,” Hawks said. “Many of the resorts said they would probably rather have a bad economy and a good snow year, versus a good economy and a bad snow year.”

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In Maine, the recession didn’t appear to deter too many skiers, said Will Tole, 27, of Gorham. Those who love skiing found a way to stash some money to go, he said.

“People will always put money aside to do something that they love to do, to have a release from the daily grind. If that’s skiing, and it is for a lot of people, that’s what they do. They make sure they have money to do the things they love,” Tole said.

Those suffering the most from the economic meltdown were destination resorts, many of which reported fewer overnight visits and shorter stays, the ski association said. By contrast, many day-ski areas near large cities benefited from skiers who chose to ski closer to home.

The announcement noted that the season was the fifth-best on record and the total visits were 400,000 above the 10-year average of 56.7 million.

Still, some regions fared better than others.

The Southeast, with the smallest share of the business, was the only region to see an increase in visits, which were up nearly 2 percent. By contrast, resorts in the Rockies, the Pacific West and the Midwest saw declines in the 7 to 8 percent range. The Northeast was down about 2 percent.

Greg Sweetser of the Ski Maine Association said the region’s numbers could’ve been stronger if early snow had continued through the season. “In March and April it never snowed, and we didn’t quite make our numbers for those months,” he said.

Overall, average snowfall was down 10 percent from last season’s abundant levels. The Southeast posted a 31.2 percent increase in snowfall, and the Midwest was up 1.1 percent, while the Northeast was down 10 percent, the Pacific West dropped 10.2 percent and the Rocky Mountain region fell 14.2 percent.

As for the coming ski season, industry officials offered mixed reviews. An early indicator of skier enthusiasm will be the sales of season passes, Hawks said. Many season passes were sold last summer before the stock market took its big dive, he noted.

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