Here’s the most bankable prediction for Super Bowl Sunday: Skiers and boarders will win big, while resort operators will humbly accept the trouncing pro football inflicts on their accounting ledgers with a mixture of resignation and inventiveness.
Having long since given up fighting the hype, the region’s ski areas now try to market what is essentially an annual black hole for business as a bonanza for diehard customers.
Super Bowl Sunday is one of the few weekend days of the season when sparsely populated slopes and quick lift lines are the norm. Although this ritualistic crowd-disappearing act affects ski areas all across the country, the phenomenon is accentuated here in the Northeast, where the Patriots will be playing for the National Football League championship for the fifth time since 2002.
And because New England’s opponent this year (like in 2008) will be the Giants, the adverse impact on ski-resort revenue is further compounded when you factor in how many New Yorkers won’t be making the trek north on Interstate 91 this weekend.
“The first year or two the Patriots made the Super Bowl, we noticed some extra space on the slopes,’’ said Karl Stone, marketing director for the industry consortium Ski NH. “Now that the Patriots make this almost an annual tradition, the ski areas have gotten creative with some incredible deals.’’
True, there will be bargains aplenty this Sunday. But that’s only because marketers have learned that appealing to reason won’t cut it when trying to fight the myth that enjoying the Super Bowl has to be a full-blown, all-day endeavor.
If you are the type of person who regularly hits the slopes on weekends, there really is no reason you can’t ski and watch the game without overlap. Official kickoff for this year’s Super Bowl is listed as 6:30 p.m., more than two hours after most resorts (without lights) stop running the lifts. Even assuming a drive home of 150 miles, if you leave the mountain by 3 p.m., you can be comfortably entrenched in front of a TV in plenty of time to catch the opening play.
It’s been 35 years since the NFL last scheduled its championship game with an afternoon East Coast starting time (Super Bowl XI kicked off at 3:47 p.m.). But even by 1977, it was becoming evident that the nation’s most anticipated televised sporting event had the power to knock recreational skiing off its axis for one Sunday every season.
Ski country harbored no such worries for the first few Super Bowls. Up until 1970, the only time you could find “skiing’’ and “Super Bowl’’ in the same sentence was when Jan Stenerud booted three field goals to help the Kansas City Chiefs upset the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV, and the media reported how the unheralded Norwegian had only learned about football after being lured to Montana State University on a skiing scholarship.
On Jan. 14, 1974, the New York Times reported “near-empty parking lots’’ at Killington on the morning of the big game, but “it was not certain whether the cause was the [gas] shortage or the Super Bowl game on TV.’’
By 1979, Super Bowl XIII was a full-blown extravaganza, but at least one iconoclast bucked the trend in search of uncrowded slopes. “I don’t think I’ll watch it,’’ actor Robert Redford told the Associated Press when asked for his prediction. “I’ll be out skiing. The Super Bowl is a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’’
At about the same time the Super Bowl was evolving into an accepted lost day for resorts, there was another subtle shift that caused the skiing industry to gain a big day of business: Martin Luther King Jr. Day was first observed as a federal holiday on the third Monday of January 1986, and it was not long before the new three-day weekend became a marketing focal point, bridging the gulf between December and February school vacations.
Skiers who have the luxury of flexibility can plan an entire season based on a contrarian calendar, hitting the hills when other folks stay away in droves.
The Globe asked 12 resort marketers what other days during a typical season qualify as noticeably under-crowded, and almost every single respondent ranked Christmas Day and New Year’s Day atop the list. But from a consumer standpoint, those two days fall within a peak vacation period. So even though the slopes won’t be heavily trafficked, don’t expect any price breaks.
Katelyn Krumperman, the marketing and communications manager at Loon Mountain, said the January weekends between the New Year celebration and MLK Day traditionally come up light. She also suggested the second weekend in February.
“Easter weekend is another good time to visit,’’ said Bonnie MacPherson, director of public relations at Okemo. “Spring conditions are the best in my book, and with so many people having family commitments during the Easter weekend, lift lines are practically nonexistent.’’
Day trippers can target the days surrounding peak vacation periods. But the tradeoff might be that if you go the Friday before a big holiday weekend, prime trails might be closed to preserve them for the crowds. And if you go the Tuesday after a three-day weekend (especially in a lean snow year) the decent cover might be scraped away.
As the season shifts into spring, a number of resorts offer absurdly low specials, like price rollbacks to when lift tickets cost $3 or skiing on April Fool’s Day for just $1. But beware: If mountain X is luring every frugal skier in New England to stand in long lift lines because it only costs a buck, the skier seeking a less crowded experience might instead look to neighboring mountain Y, where the discount won’t be as large, but you won’t have to battle the masses.
Over the past decade in New England, the day after the Super Bowl has newly emerged as an unexpectedly sparse skiing day - particularly if the Patriots win. When that happens, industry insiders refer to it as “hangover Monday,’’ and diehard skiers aim for the least crowded back-to-back dates on the calendar.