December 22, 2020
While the pandemic and politics may make many of us feel as if our quality of life is “going downhill” fast, there is one business sector that could benefit significantly from just that scenario: Millions of Americans would love to bust out of lockdown and go skiing—and the $20 billion U.S. ski and snowboard industry hopes they give it a try.
The most profitable time is Christmas vacation, coming soon, and the resurgence of COVID-19 has slope operators nervous that another shot at decent earnings will be lost at a time when pent-up demand is reaching a bursting point.
“It’s just going to be a very different year for all of us, an interesting year, a stressful year,” Jeff Hanle, vice president of Communications for Aspen Skiing, which owns the Aspen Snowmass resort in Colorado, told Bloomberg this week. “People are very excited to be outside, to be up on the hill.”
With wide distribution of a vaccine still months away, different mountains have different reasons to worry. Aspen Snowmass, which caters to the jet set with more than 350 trails on four peaks, expects to lose 80% of its international business as pandemic travel restrictions remain in force.
At smaller, family-owned slopes, such as Minnesota’s Lutsen Mountains and Nub’s Nob in Michigan, the challenge is more to keep customers and staff safe while they gear up, take breaks and refuel with chili and hot chocolate.
Ski-in, ski-out accommodations can alleviate crowding in public spaces, and Lutsen Mountains, overlooking Lake Superior, can take advantage of that, according to Marketing Director Jim Vick. The resort is encouraging overnight guests who are staying trailside to use their rooms as their own private day lodges, freeing up space in the lodge for day guests.
Rules vary at different locations. The California side of Lake Tahoe is closed to overnight guests due to Covid-19 restrictions while the Nevada side remains open. Some resorts have instituted reservation systems to limit the number of skiers, which, of course, cuts into revenue. And the National Ski Areas Association is urging skiers to ride chairlifts and gondolas only with people they know.
More than 51 million visitors hit American slopes last year, according to the NSAA. That put 2020 on pace for the fourth-best season since counting started in the 1970s—were it not for the March shutdowns. Now, the industry looks forward to rising numbers in 2021, and a near-return to normal sometime in 2022.
Research contact: @Bloomberg