This winter may be remembered as a year of reckoning for the ski/snowboard industry. A flood of what many industry insiders consider “bad press” has been plaguing them for the better part of the season. Early on, social media posts focused on lack of terrain available and poor customer service resulting from lack of staff at resorts. Posts primarily were directed toward Vail Resorts properties.
Cost has long been an issue and the hefty cost of $269 for a single day (peak) ticket at Steamboat raised a few eyebrows as the season kicked off. Comments then shifted to complaints about long lift lines resulting from a significant boost in sales of Vail’s discounted Epic Pass. Social Media was bursting at the seams with comments being posted from all over the country. That infamous Visa commercial featuring hundreds of people sliding down a slope accompanied by someone singing a French song has not helped the image of overcrowded slopes. It gives the impression that dogs, bob sledders, a kayaker, a tuber and even someone transporting wood in a sleigh could be sharing the hill with skiers and snowboarders.
Housing shortages for personnel have plagued the ski industry for years but it was ever so apparent as this season when many poured into mountain communities to escape Covid in more crowded cities. Real estate prices at resorts skyrocketed and workers at the lower ends of the wage sale found themselves unable to afford decent housing unless they packed way too many people into spaces not designed for them. In many cases, that only exacerbated the lack of staffing situation as Covid-spread compounded the situation.
The large television audience for the Winter Olympics has exposed still another issue that the industry has been hesitant to talk about – climate change. Just about everybody now knows that the snow for skiing and snowboarding events did not fall out of the sky. It is “real snow” but it spews from a snow gun.
A recent article in the Washington Post about how climate change is affecting snow at resorts is giving many in the industry heartburn. This quote from Peter Zellmann, head of the Institute for Leisure and Tourism Research in Austria is rather chilling: “Conditions during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and four years later in Sochi, Russia, were “too warm for even advanced snowmaking technology,” so snow had to be trucked or flown in from elsewhere. Zhangjiakou (China), where the climate is so dry it basically never snows, might be the worst advertising for winter sports thus far.”
And the article goes on to say: Previous host cities already belong to the fastest-warming locations worldwide, and if greenhouse gas emissions aren’t dramatically reduced, 20 of the 21 destinations that have previously hosted the Winter Olympics wouldn’t be able to do so by the end of the century, according to recent research, led by the department of geography and environmental management at the University of Waterloo in Canada.
In 2018, the North American Snow Sports Journalists Association (NASJA) hosted what they called the Weather Summit at Vermont’s Stratton Mountain Resort. The idea was to “draw meteorologists from throughout the Northeast to help spur consistent communication between the winter sports community and meteorologists, presenting the ski industry as a resource for speaking to the public about winter fun”.
Climate change was considered a bit too controversial to make much of a splash on the conference agenda. There was no mention of the topic in coverage by the industry trade publication Ski Area Management and only a brief mention in Senior Skiing that commented on one meteorologist’s assessment that the number of sun spots on the sun indicated that the sun was burning less hot that in the past.
With “the perfect storm” hovering overhead, industry leaders are starting to realize that they have to resolve these issues or they will find it ever more difficult to attract newcomers. In the U.S., the skier snowboarder population is only about three percent of the population at large.