Heavenly Mountain Resort (file photo: Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority)

Snowfall and Improving Economy Give Western U.S. Ski Resorts a Boost

Denver, CO – As the economy improved and snow piled up at many western ski resorts during January, so did actual occupancy and reservations for the coming six months, according to the most recent data released by the Mountain Travel Research Program (MTRiP).

As of Jan. 31, actual occupancy among 216 participating mountain resort lodging companies in 16 communities, representing 24,000 rooms across Colorado, Utah, California, Nevada, and Oregon, was up an aggregated 9.5 percent for January compared to last January with the Average Daily Rate (ADR) up 6.5 percent in a sharp increase from January 2012.

The monthly briefing also revealed a blizzard of reservations for the remainder of the season with the booking pace–the number of reservations taken in January for arrivals at resorts in January through June–up a whopping 33 percent. February is currently up 14.5 percent compared to the same month last year while the ADR ticked up 3.2 percent.

South Lake Tahoe, Calif., from Heavenly Mountain Resort (file photo: Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority)
South Lake Tahoe, Calif., from Heavenly Mountain Resort (file photo: Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority)

“The season-to-date figures had been marginally positive going into December but had yet to demonstrate the kind of momentum needed to deliver a good season for mountain resorts,” observed Ralf Garrison, MTRiP’s director. “But an improving economy and decent snow in many parts of the country combined to drive the pace of reservations taken in January to become the strongest we’ve seen in quite some time. Although there is still ground to be made up, the timing of Easter and school breaks is very favorable, leaving only April pacing behind.”

For the next six months, aggregated on-the-books occupancy is up 7.9 percent with increases measured in February, March, May, June, and July. The MTRiP analysis, however, also included a cautionary “spoiler alert” about the months ahead.

“The failure of government leaders to reach a long-term fiscal agreement at the end of December has led to the emergence of three events that are critical for sustaining the recovery and stabilizing the U.S. economy,” explained Tom Foley, director of operations for MTRiP. “Continued lack of agreement in Washington could lead to automatic spending cuts beginning March 1, running out of funds to run the government on March 27, and then reaching the debt ceiling on May 18 and possibly again in August. In combination, how these three situations are handled will help define the recovery and stability of both the U.S. and global economies—and will very likely have an impact on consumer confidence and spending.”

Several other leading economic factors that may shape consumer behavior were also cited. On the positive side, the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 756.4 points and was 9.7 percent higher than January 2012 and the Consumer Price Index remained unchanged from December, giving consumers a break on fuel and the associated costs of getting products to the market.

On the negative side of the equation were reports of another slight increase in the unemployment rate and the Consumer Confidence Index decreasing dramatically during January to 58.6 points—its lowest level since November 2011 and marking the third consecutive monthly decline. A very strong increase in fuel prices is also expected to have some impact on consumer prices and confidence in the weeks ahead.

“With this dramatic increase in occupancy and reservations creating a crescendo of momentum, we anticipate solid destination performance for the season and very possibly, the best overall outcome since the winter of 2007-08,” claimed Garrison. “As is always true, sudden shifts in the weather and broader economy continue to be wild cards that can impact momentum and change the game and we may well be in for something of a bumpy ride going into the summer booking season if Washington can’t find some positive permanent resolutions to our pending economic woes.”

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