For the first time in two years, the National Ski Areas Association recently concluded its in-person annual national convention held in Nashville. The biggest announcement for this gathering of industry professionals was the skier visit tally for the 2021-22 season. Guess WHAT!?
U.S. ski areas hit an all-time-high 61 million skier visits for the 2021-22 ski season indicating a 3.5 percent increase over 2021-22, and a .75 percent increase over the record 2010-11 season. As reported by The Storm Skiing Journal, “the new high was achieved despite a mediocre snow year, with an average of 145 inches nationally – 21 inches below the 166-inch 10-year average. The West region (as defined by the NSAA), hit a record 25.2 million skier visits. Visits also increased year-over-year in the Midwest, Northeast, and Southwest, but decreased in the Southeast and Pacific Northwest”.
This may not surprise those who know what the term skier visits means. It is not an increase in the number of people participating in snow sports but rather the number of times people with lift tickets (season pass or otherwise) went skiing or snowboarding. A statement from the NSAA sheds light on the phenomenon.
“For the third season in a row, season passes surpassed day tickets in share of skier visits. Season pass holders made up 51.9% of visits nationally, with day tickets claiming 37.3% of visits (the balance is claimed by off-duty employees, complimentary products, etc.). Ski areas of all sizes, from small to large, in all regions of the country saw an increase in number of season passes sold”, said the release.
Volume sales of season passes is not likely to end anytime soon and will likely increase.
Capital investment by ski areas is projected to reach an all-time high, totaling $728 million for the upcoming capital season. Over the past three seasons, the average ski area has invested $16 per skier visit back into its operation including new lift infrastructure, terrain expansion, workforce housing, upgraded dining and other amenities.
The bottom line? Will overcrowding at resorts continue uncontrolled? Will frequent skiers and snowboarders with accessibility and season passes continue to benefit while occasional participants will likely pay disproportionate prices? That’s probably not a recipe to encourage newcomers. So, while the industry is crowing now, are the current policies sustainable?