#1: Data Reveals a Difficult Ski Season in Vermont, New Mexico:
Well, for the first time in a long time, this week’s ski news had something of an “off-season” feel to it. Since mid-November we’ve had the pleasure of discussing ski news in the midst of the season, meaning we had plenty of competition news and coronavirus protocols to report. Now that we’re in the second week of April however, ski news is beginning to change as we find ourselves reflecting on a season that’s more or less come to pass, as well as looking ahead to what next season holds. We’ll start this week by focusing on the former of those two themes, as we caught a number of articles that put Vermont’s ski season under the microscope.
As Vermonters and New Englanders alike are aware, Vermont’s ski tourism industry faced incredible odds this winter as the state’s travel regulations required a 14 day quarantine period for anyone visiting from outside the state. Additionally, the Canadian border also remained closed entirely, further reducing the potential for tourism. As a result, a state which typically benefits from a great deal of visitors during the winter months found itself only able to welcome state residents and the few out of state skiers who completed the required quarantine. Now, in the wake of the ski season, we’re starting to learn some of the actual numbers behind the ski season. In an article published this week by VT Digger, we’re treated to a bevy of statistics that all help tell the story of the economics behind this year’s season. While there are a number of ways to read into these statistics, the most eye opening figure is that the Vermont ski industry suffered approximately $100 million in losses as a result of a decrease in income across nearly all revenue streams. Compounding on that figure, is the fact that many ski resorts were forced to implement costly covid-precautions, such as new air purification systems and winterized outdoor eating environments. Still, despite the discouraging figures, the Vermont ski industry has a couple of things going for it. First, according to an article from VPR, about 20 Vermont ski areas received a total of over $5.3 million in aid in order to help keep their businesses afloat. Secondly, Vermont ski areas did just that: they stayed afloat. Despite a season which saw a 40% decrease in paid skier visits, a 60% decrease in lodging revenue, and a 70% decrease in food and beverage sales, as of the time of this writing, no ski resorts within the state have announced any new plans to close. Instead, resorts seem to be breathing a sigh of relief as they turn their attention to the prospects of next season. As Geoff Hathaway, President of Magic Mountain put it, “I think next year could be a really incredible year, regardless of what happens with the weather.” For more details on the difficult season in Vermont, check out this report from VT Digger, or this writeup from the Times Union. If you’re interested in learning more about the state aid side of things, check out this article from VPR.
In other related news, we also caught an article coming out of New Mexico that provided a similar recap of that state’s season. While there are certainly many parallels between the ski season in Vermont and New Mexico, as ski resorts in both states saw significant declines in nearly all categories of revenue, there are some interesting nuances and differences worth noting as well. At the top of that list is an interesting glimpse into a pricing strategy that worked quite well for Sipapu Ski & Summer Resort, where increasing lift ticket prices on weekends, and decreasing prices during the week resulted in nearly even lift ticket revenue this season compared to last, despite selling approximately 7,000 less tickets. In addition to this angle, the article also discusses the success of the state’s resorts in mitigating the spread of Covid, citing the fact that between the state’s eight ski areas, 7,128 employee tests were conducted, with only 21 coming back positive. Now, with the season in the rearview, resort operators in New Mexico are also looking ahead to next winter’s return to normalcy. To learn more about New Mexico’s pandemic ski season, check in with the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper.
#2: As Ban on H2-B and J1 Visas Expires, Resorts Expected to Return to Use of International Seasonal Workers:
Speaking of the difficulties of surviving the covid season, we came across some news this week that ski resort operators are likely quite excited about: the Biden administration elected to let the ban on H2-B and J1 visas expire, as of March 31st. If these two terms mean very little to you, just know that the long and short of it is that these visas allow ski areas to hire international, seasonal employees. In a typical season, these temporary hires are used to fill a number of positions, ranging from chairlift attendants to hospitality and service workers. This past season, as a result of the global pandemic, the two programs were suspended, forcing a number of ski resorts to struggle through their hiring process. Well, that was the assumption anyways. As it turned out, while international workers were no longer able to travel to the U.S. for seasonal work, the demographic of college aged skiers and snowboarders suddenly found themselves either feeling compelled to forgo a year of college, or able to attend classes remotely. As such, the vacancy created by a lack of an international hiring pool was more or less filled by domestic, college aged workers. What’s interesting about this week’s news, is that it ultimately creates something of a decision point for the ski industry. Was the availability of domestic seasonal workers a successful endeavor that could conceivably continue into future seasons, or will ski areas return to their previous tactics of utilizing these visa programs? While it’s still too early to tell, current signs point to a return to tradition as it’s likely that the domestic hiring pool will dry up as the demographic returns to college in the fall, while the international pool becomes available again. For more on this, check out the recap from Sky-Hi News.
#3: Arapahoe Basin Continues Creative Approach to Multi Passes, Partners With Bluebird Backcountry:
Next up in ski resort news this week, is yet another headline in which Arapahoe Basin continues to experiment with ways to avoid fully participating in the multi pass madness that’s swept the industry in recent years. While many of you likely know of Arapahoe Basin’s continued efforts to avoid overcrowding, here’s a brief overview for the rest of you: back at the end of the 2018-2019 season, the resort ended its partnership with the Epic Pass, which had allowed pass holders unlimited access to the resort. Instead, they partnered with the Ikon and Mountain Collective passes under an agreement that gave guests a limited number of days at Arapahoe Basin. Then, just a few weeks ago, the resort made the surprising announcement that they’ll be reducing the number of passes sold next year by 10%. Again, this move was an effort to further optimize the on-hill skiing experience for its guests.
This week, we learned of yet another unique move being made by the resort, and one that we’re admittedly quite excited to see. Effective immediately, Arapahoe Basin and Bluebird Backcountry have entered a partnership that allows pass holders of either resort access to the other. For the rest of this month, anyone who buys a season pass for the 2021-2022 season at Bluebird Backcountry will receive a voucher for 50% off a lift ticket to Arapahoe Basin this Spring. Then, next season, Bluebird pass holders will be eligible for two free days of skiing at Arapahoe Basin, while A-Basin pass holders will receive two day passes for Bluebird Backcountry, which will be valid on any Monday, Thursday, or Friday. While you may feel underwhelmed by the two-day limitation placed on the agreement, from our perspective it’s significant news as it highlights Arapahoe Basin’s ability to continuously find creative ways to compete in an increasingly consolidated industry, in addition to further legitimizing Bluebird Backcountry as a bonafide ski resort. To learn more about this announcement, check out the brief writeup from Summit Daily, or the Arapahoe Basin website to learn more.
#4: After Taking a Year Off, the Audi Nines is Back and Underway This Week:
Finally, we round out this week’s Top 5 with some news you may or may not already be aware of: the Audi Nines competition is back and currently underway for 2021! For years the Audi Nines event (formerly known as Nine Knights), had been an unofficial, season-ending party/competition, where freeskiing and snowboarding’s top athletes convened at an incredibly unique, castle-esque course. Unfortunately last season, as a result of the pandemic, the event was forced to be cancelled. This year though, the event is back, with a who’s who of top skiers in attendance. Now, to be perfectly clear, yes, the Audi Nines is a competition, but it should be noted that creativity and fun take precedence over medals. There are no FIS points to earn here, or championships to compete for. Yes, winners are awarded at the end of the event, but really the value of the event isn’t in the competition. In the words of the Nine’s website, “It’s the family gathering side of the Nines: a unique place and time when skiers and snowboarders, photographers and filmers gather together to enjoy an amazing week in the mountains, building bonds and sharing the collective stoke.” In addition to the great experience for athletes, the event is also a content generating machine, as athletes find themselves pushing the envelope in a number of ways, creativity amongst the most prevalent. All of this is to say one thing about this week’s news: the Audi Nine’s event is back, and currently underway. As of right now, clips have been limited, but we fully expect to see some great footage being released in the next week or so. We’ll be sure to check back in on this event next week, either with a full recap, or a highlight reel depending on availability. Until then, check out the official Audi Nines website to learn more!