Will great snow trump a bad economy? | VailDaily.com

Will great snow trump a bad economy?

Bob Berwyn and Scott N. Miller
Vail, CO, Colorado

SUMMIT and EAGLE COUNTIES ” While gloomy economic news doesn’t seem to end these days, Colorado ski industry experts are still optimistic about the upcoming season, provided there’s plenty of powder.

Looking at trends for the past 19 years, RRC Associates president Nolan Rosall said statistics show that snow quality, temperatures and timing of snowfall are more important than the economy or consumer confidence in luring skiers and snowboarders to resorts.

Rosall’s Boulder-based researchers compared recessions with nationwide snowfall, consumer confidence and skier visits. The results suggest that, even when times are tough, skier visits can stay high in good snow years. The textbook case is the winter of 1981-1982, when skier visits soared to record levels despite a deep recession.

Poor snow this winter, however, could lead to a double whammy for ski resorts.

“It’s easy for people to cancel plans for a ski vacation if the snow and the economy are bad,” Rosall said.

This season will how loyal ski resorts’ customers are, he said.

“Skiers are tough,” Double Diamond Ski Shop general manager Matt Carroll said.

“People are going to be here if it snows.”

That said, Carroll said the Double Diamond is being conservative with its pre-season merchandise orders.

The only big question is whether the current economic decline is in the same ballpark with past dips ” or whether the current credit crisis and stock market convulsions will lead to more severe problems.

Rosall said that based on measures like unemployment figures and stock market values, the current economic situation is “within the realm of other recessions.”

Breckenridge Ski Area vice president and chief operating officer Lucy Kay said the RRC report would help her plan for the upcoming season.

“We’re optimistic that people are still going to want to go on vacation and that they will find a way,” Kay said.

But that view may be optimistic.

“Even if it does snow, there are factors that will affect people who travel,” said Vail resident Rick Scalpello, who helps promote the summer farmers markets along Meadow Drive. “For people in Chicago, New York or L.A., there are factors at work that don’t have anything to do with snow.”

Flexibility to respond to short-term changes, both in the economy and the weather, is the key to a successful season, she added. As to whether the current recession is in line with past economic cycles, Kay said that, in her opinion, it’s too early to tell.

“My sense is, people are going to sit tight until the election. It’s a wait and see attitude,” she said.

At Sweet Basil in Vail, general manager Matt Morgan said he’s wary of the season to come.

“Will we have a normal year? No,” Morgan said. “But a great snow year will help.”

If the snow doesn’t come, though, well, the people interviewed for this story don’t really want to talk about.

“If it doesn’t snow, even in good years that’s trouble,” Morgan said.

And businesses are still planning strategies for the coming year. Morgan said there’s going to be a meeting next week in Vail for town officials and business representatives to talk about how they need to respond to the market’s woes.

Whatever comes from that meeting, Scalpello said Vail businesses this season can’t rely on business as usual.

“Vail has to give people a reason to visit,” he said. “Otherwise, Vail will just get its share.”

Scalpello said those reasons to visit could include some combination of events, discounts and gimmicks.

Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass may drive some Front Range skiers to Denver, but Scalpello and Sweet Basil general manager Matt Morgan disagreed about how much the pass may help.

In Scalpello’s view, the Epic Pass was aimed at destination skiers as a way to get them to Vail more than once a winter.

Morgan, who was one of several Vail business people who worried that the Epic Pass could make last season’s parking problems even worse, believes the passes may help drive Front Range skiers to Vail, even if destination skiers are sitting on their wallets.

The economic news will probably drive some changes in visitation, Rosall said.

Skiers are less likely to take longer multi-day trips, instead looking for close-to-home options. That could affect some of the more remote resorts that rely on visitors who spend several nights in hotels, he said.

“You do get shifts in where people ski,” he said.

That holds true for international visits, a strength of the Colorado ski industry in recent years. The same factors, economics and weather, are in play. A collapse of the Euro could have dramatic impacts, he said.

Overall, the picture for international visits is not quite as bright as in previous seasons, Rosall said.

“We’re likely to feel some effects,” Morgan said. “I think Vail’s more insulated that most places. We’ll survive.”

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