Seasonal passes and hotel demand indicate best year for ski slopes: Travel Weekly

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Record season ticket sales coupled with strong advance accommodation bookings portend a record season for the US ski industry, provided, of course, the snow is cooperative.

“For all stations with a destination component, [travelers] should book now to make sure they can go when they want and get the best price, ”said Rusty Gregory, CEO of Alterra Mountain Co., which owns or operates 14 ski areas in North America. North.

Booking demand at Alterra-owned lodges, as well as other lodges that serve skiers from Alterra resorts, Gregory said, is up about 20% from 2019-20, the season before the pandemic does not strike.

The story is similar in all ski towns in the West, as the industry looks to capitalize on a surprisingly strong 2020-2021 season now that domestic leisure travel has taken hold and borders have taken hold. reopened to major international markets including Canada, Brazil, UK and UK. EU.

According to business intelligence platform DesiMetrics, which tracks bookings in 18 mountain resort towns in the western United States, occupancy for the November-April season was already up 18.9% as of October 31 compared to the same date in 2019. (DesiMetrics is a division of Inntopia, a sister company of Travel Weekly.)

This force is visible in the Aspen area, where Aspen Snowmass spokesman Jeff Hanle said bookings are ahead of 2019, which was on course to be a record year before being cut short. by the pandemic.

Ski areas like Jay Peak in Vermont are gearing up for the season. The complex will be helped by the reopening of the border between the United States and Canada, although testing requirements may still be a headwind. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Jay Peak Resort

The trend is also spreading to the northeast, including Vermont, where the destination ski market was particularly hampered last year by a mandatory quarantine of at least one week for all out-of-state visitors. .

“I’ve heard from all of our member regions that the season pass sales and winter reservations are going well,” said Ski Vermont President Molly Mahar.

Information released by Vail Resorts in its September earnings call provides an example of the booming pass market. Sales of the company’s Epic Pass, which provides access to up to 43 ski areas in the US and Canada as well as 18 mountains in Europe, Japan and Australia, increased 67% in units through September 17 compared to 2019 and up 42%. compared to last year.

In Vail’s case, one of the reasons for the hike is the 20% drop in the Epic Pass prices he instituted for this season. But Alterra hasn’t made such a cut for its Ikon Pass, which gives access to 38 North American ski areas and eight others around the world. And while the private company won’t release pass sales numbers, Gregory called them “highly satisfactory,” adding that sales will increase by the highest percentage in the pass’s four-year history.

Industry insiders say a number of factors are driving the strong demand, including the postponement of surprisingly strong participation in skiing and snowboarding last season.

Ski [Credit: Yari Ghidone/Shutterstock.com]

Photo credit: Yari Ghidone / Shutterstock.com

So much about the skiing experience has changed as operators rushed to adapt to Covid-19 protocols. How much will be left? More than you might think.

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Despite the impact of the pandemic, in 2020-2021, U.S. ski areas recorded their fifth highest number of visits since the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) began tracking attendance in 1978-79. In addition, the 10.5 million people who skied last year in the United States were the most recorded.

The industry has achieved these measures despite national and international travel restrictions that have reduced destination skiing and also despite the institution of capacity limitations and mandatory reservations due to the pandemic. Additionally, said NSAA spokeswoman Adrienne Isaac, snowfall is usually the main factor determining the strength of a particular ski season, but last year four of the six NSAA regions had less. snow than normal.

Conversely, flexible work and school hours as well as the relative safety of outdoor recreation during a pandemic have boosted participation in skiing. An unusually high rate of 47% of ski tours in the United States were in the middle of the week last year.

“The challenge for ski resorts is to retain these people even as their schedules return to normal,” Isaac said.

The renewed enthusiasm for outdoor winter sports is helping meet this challenge, said Tom Foley, senior vice president of business and analytics at Inntopia. The same is true of the new interest that many are taking in the vast surroundings of mountain towns.

“It’s a new state of mind that started during the pandemic and has just stuck,” Foley said.

Daily accommodation rates in the western ski towns that Inntopia tracks are up 20.9% from two years ago, but Foley noted mountain travelers were already a demographic. wealthy before the pandemic, and many of them have prospered over the past 20 months as the stock and real estate markets have exploded.

“More than anything, I think we just have the desire to travel that will tolerate extremely high room rates,” Foley said.

The reopening of international borders will also be a tailwind for the US ski industry compared to last season.

At Jay Peak in Vermont, for example, which is just four miles from the Canadian border, about half of visitors typically come from Canada, according to Mahar.

But ongoing testing requirements for both entry into the United States and return to Canada could further depress Canadian visits from the pre-pandemic era, she said.

In the Four Mountains of Aspen, international tours typically account for 25-30% of destination activity, Hanle said, with Brazil and Australia being the largest source markets. The reopening will boost activity compared to last year. Yet January, which is typically the month that attracts the most visitors from each of these countries, is the destination’s weakest month for advance bookings so far this season. “We see how it goes,” Hanle said.

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