Friday, January 13, 2012

Snow-haves try to steal market share


MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. -- In the first days of 2012, ski resorts with snow smelled opportunity to carve a larger slice of market share.

Those resorts blessed with snow were either far north or far south, but leaving a large band of resorts across the middle of the United States looking woefully over their shoulders for precedent. Usually in La Niña winters, the line cleaves more cleanly across the nation's middle between the haves and the have-nots.

Among the haves was Montana's Big Sky Resort. It announced a special "Epic Package," available to holders of the Vail Resorts Epic Pass. Pass-holders booking lodging with the Big Sky central reservations during January could ski free.

"Colorado and Tahoe skiing not so epic this season? We'd like to help," said Big Sky on its website.

Grand Targhee, on the flanks of the Tetons in Wyoming, more broadly offered free lift tickets to anybody with a season pass to a U.S. or Canadian ski resort for as many nights lodging as were booked through Targhee's lodging division.

Whistler-Blackcomb couldn't help but gloat. It posted a bar chart on its Facebook page. As of Jan. 5, it had 204 inches of snow, almost twice as much as the next in line, Snowbird and Alta, then Vail and Breckenridge, with poor Heavenly looking like a child's stool in this row of bars.

In the Tahoe Basin, Homewood Mountain Resort announced it would be closed Mondays through Thursdays until snow conditions permit full operations. Truckee's Sierra Sun reported rumors—dismissed speedily by resort representatives—of other resorts closing down.

But ski areas were closing. Mt. Ashland in Oregon was one.

Bogus Basin, outside Boise, has not yet opened. The latest opening ever before in the ski area's 69 years of operation was Jan. 6. Ski area representatives told the Idaho Statesman they could open the runs with as little as 16 inches, but last week they had only 3 to 10.


"We are confident in the fact that it's going to snow," General Manager Mike Shirley told the newspaper. "If it didn't, that would be breathtaking."

Shirley was foregoing pay during a time when the ski area normally takes in as much as $100,000 in revenue. Other year-round employees are getting 10 percent pay cuts and in some cases reduced hours.

Bogus season pass-holders were extended discounts at other Idaho resorts, including Brundage. That resort opened late, but has snow—and warm weather.

"I've never seen so many people willing to ski in the rain and actually smiling about it," spokeswoman April Russell told the Statesman.

Mammoth Mountain wasn't exactly digging out from excess snow, either. But it had top-to-bottom skiing—and getting customers who might otherwise have gone to Tahoe, Utah or Colorado, according to Chief Executive Rusty Gregory in a memo to employees.

"Many of our guests came to Mammoth from Northern California for the first time because the Tahoe resorts' lower elevations and limited snowmaking capabilities only allowed the operation of a small fraction of the terrain and services Mammoth provided," reported Gregory.

It was, he said, the "most successful" Christmas week in his 34 years on the mountain. Gregory declared that Mammoth will stay the course.

"We are going to do the opposite of what other resorts are doing. We are not going to cut services or service to save money. We are going to keep everything open," he said.

In Colorado, the absence of snow was allowing mountain bikers in the first days of 2012 to continue pedaling on some trails at Crested Butte. Elsewhere in the community, Nordic skiers were using shovels to get enough snow for a racing course.

A weekend storm left some smiles in Colorado. Aspen and Snowmass got 8 inches, the first significant snowfall since Dec. 14, reported The Aspen Times—and the last until Jan. 20, according to a local meteorologist.

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