Snowstorms could turn white into gold for New England’s ski areas
Those big drifts of snow you cleared from your driveway caused more than a few headaches. But for New England’s ski areas, it’s the best advertising that money can’t buy.
Heading into what the industry calls the crucial Presidents’ Week, operators of ski areas hope that the seemingly endless barrage of snow that buried Boston-area backyards will inspire people to hit the slopes.
“Having these kinds of snow conditions entering February vacation is a godsend,” said Tom Meyers, the director of marketing at Wachusett Mountain Ski Area in Princeton.
What exactly a bountiful week will mean for a ski area’s season depends, to some extent, on geography. For ski areas in Southern New England, the extra business that all this snow should attract could be what helps them catch up to previous seasons after a slow, warm December. And for areas in New England’s northern climes, it could contribute to one of the best years in history.
Some customers probably stayed home when Greater Boston got snowed under during the past two weeks: It was too tough to drive through the neighborhood, much less to the mountains.
Jessyca Keeler, executive director at the trade group Ski NH, said she thinks that’s why the three ski areas she surveyed said traffic fell slightly in February’s first week, compared to the same time a year earlier.
But on balance, many in the industry say all this extra snow has been a boon, for the free marketing and for the fresh powder on the slopes. Major resorts like Loon Mountain, Sunday River, and Killington all reported a stronger-than-normal Monday and Tuesday of this week as skiers extended their weekends to enjoy the good skiing up north and avoid the rough driving conditions back home.
The wave of storms put Sugarloaf in Carrabassett Valley, Maine, within reach of its best season, 2012-2013, in terms of revenue and traffic, marketing director Ethan Austin said. Less than 40 miles from the Canadian border, Sugarloaf also enjoyed a solid, snowy December. Total skier visits are up 10 percent over the 2013-2014 season so far, Austin said, and revenue has risen 14 percent, compared to the same period a year ago.
Likewise, business has been brisk at Sugarbush in Warren, Vt. Skier visits are up 7 percent so far this year, and revenue has risen 6 percent, compared to the same time a year ago, spokesman John Bleh said.
This is shaping up to be Sugarbush’s second-best year for revenue since the current owner, Summit Ventures, bought the resort in 2001. Much of that can be attributed to the snow that blanketed its key markets. “Even if we get a huge storm in Vermont, if people in Boston or New York aren’t seeing snow in their backyards, it’s hard to get them motivated to come up here,” Bleh said.
For Wachusett, the recent storms were welcomed like rains after a drought. Skier volume is about dead-even so far this season, as the ski area recovers from a December that brought more cold drizzle than snow, Meyers said. Wachusett also expects to save on its power bills, which can total $150,000 a month. “We haven’t had to make snow since before the [Jan. 27] blizzard,” Meyers said.
Avid skiers are also celebrating: They’re finding a layer of fresh powder covering a deep base, where icy conditions are more the norm.
“This is heaven for skiers,” said Nick Reuter, who owns the AlpineZone.com site for mountain sports enthusiasts. “This is probably the first year when anyone can remember where skiing on the East Coast is as good as it gets.”
The near-perfect conditions in New England prompted Christopher Conroy of Allston to cancel a five-day trip to Colorado last week and instead spend four days visiting four ski areas closer to home. He said he lost about $200, but the sacrifice was worth it.
“Saturday at Mad River Glen [in Vermont] was probably one of the top five skiing days in my life,” he said.
All this snow may mean a longer ski season. Far-north places, Reuter said, like Killington, Sunday River, and Sugarloaf, all vie to be “king of spring” and stay open as late in the year as they can.
Michael Joseph, communications manager at Vermont’s Killington Resort, said the recent weather — the resort made it through January without a day of thawing — could help the ski area stay open until June for the first time since 2002. “This is one of the top 10 winters anybody can remember,” Joseph said. “We’re in the business of playing in the snow, and hopefully keeping it around for as long as we can.”