Nationwide ski visits strong
Industry sees 2nd-highest visitation numbers despite lodging woes
May 24, 2010
Hitting the slopes
Total number of nationwide skier
and snowboarder days for past 10
seasons, in millions
■ 2000-01: 57.3
■ 2001-02: 54.4
■ 2002-03: 57.6
■ 2003-04: 57.1
■ 2004-05: 56.9
■ 2005-06: 58.9
■ 2006-07: 55.1
■ 2007-08: 60.5
■ 2008-09: 57.4
■ 2009-10: 59.7
Source: RRC Associates
Steamboat Springs — Members of the lodging industry might not believe it, but the 2009-10 season brought the second-highest number of skiers and snowboarders in history to resorts nationwide.
David Belin, of the Boulder-based research and consulting firm RRC Associates, said last week that 59.7 million visits occurred in the ski season that ended at Steamboat Ski Area last month. That number is second only to the 60.5 million nationwide skier and snowboarder visits in 2007-08. Speaking Thursday at Economic Summit 2010 at The Steamboat Grand, Belin also suggested that Steamboat Springs is well-positioned for travel demand despite the economic recession because people who travel to mountain areas — according to an RRC study — take more trips per year, are wealthier and have a more positive business outlook than non-mountain travelers.
"The mountain travelers are more affluent, more confident. … You guys are in the right business," Belin told his audience. "Mountain travelers are more confident in the U.S. economy as a whole."
Belin said that assessment is the result of a nationwide, online survey of travelers conducted by RRC in an effort to explore sentiment, travel behavior and future travel intent. The study separated those who traveled to mountain areas from those who didn't, Belin said. The study found that in general, mountain travelers have higher household incomes, are more confident about their job security in the next year and are less likely to reduce their vacation spending, despite the recession.
"They're not spending less on their leisure travel. Most likely, they're spending about the same," Belin said about mountain travelers. "And they take more types of trips than non-mountain travelers."
The number of skier visits and the mountain-traveler profile belie national and local struggles of the lodging industry last year. In Steamboat, lodging tax revenues dipped 23.4 percent compared to 2008. The average 2009 lodging tax drop among Steamboat and 16 other Colorado mountain resort communities was 19.1 percent, according to RRC research.
Belin said the disparity between skier visits and lodging revenues could be because "the room rates were way down" and occupancy picked up in March rather than earlier in the ski season. But he also said travelers increasingly are seeking options outside traditional guest lodging — such as staying with friends or relatives, or renting homes through websites such as http://www.vrbo.com, a source of vacation home rentals.
"There's a whole variety of places where you can stay," Belin said. "The consumer is figuring out where they can stay that has the best value for them."
Belin noted that the ski visitation figures represent the total number of days spent on the slopes, rather than the total number of people who visited a ski area. In other words, someone who skied 50 days would count for 50 visits in the total figure.
Another RRC study found that the number of active skiers or snowboarders in the U.S. has remained relatively constant during the past decade, reaching 10.5 million in 2000-01 but dipping to just less than 10 million in 2008-09.
Belin said that means resorts this past season likely saw "basically the same number of skiers, just more days per person."
"It's a little frustrating that this number isn't growing," he said about active skiers and snowboarders in America. "The proportion of U.S. residents who ski keeps getting smaller."
That proportion now is less than 3 percent, he said.
But a lot of those people ski or snowboard in the Rockies.
The Rocky Mountain region hosted about 21 million of the 59.7 million nationwide visits in 2009-10. About 20 percent of the total visits occurred in Colorado, Belin said, continuing the state's dominance of the industry. After Colorado, the second-highest state by percentage of total visitations was California, which drew 12.5 percent of 2009-10's total visits.
"This pattern has been fairly consistent for the past five, six years," Belin said. "Colorado is really one of the big bellwethers for the industry — as goes Colorado, so goes the industry."