Skier Visits

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(Host) A few years ago, while passing through the Atlanta airport, commentator Tim McQuiston noticed signs advertising several direct flights to Aspen Colorado – where apparently lots of Southern
Belles were hitting the slopes.

(McQuiston) There was a time when Vermont led the nation in skier visits. Skier visits, or skier days, is the standard measure of business in the alpine ski and snowboarding industry. If one person goes skiing for one week, that’s seven skier visits.

Vermont is now third in skier visits. Colorado is way ahead in first place and California is a comfortable second. Thirty years ago, Vermont and Colorado garnered about the same number of skiers, but Colorado, and all the western resorts, have boomed, while eastern skiing has been flat for a long time.

In the year 2000, the Vermont Ski Areas Association launched a marketing plan called “The Drive For 5.5.” — 5.5 referred to 5.5 million skier visits. In 1987, Vermont set a record with 5.2 million skier visits.

Results recently released by the association show that the 5.5 goal is still a dream. Skier visits last winter were 4.2 million, down a little from the previous season. The bitterly cold January was blamed for the sluggish numbers.

Nationally, the industry was down slightly to 56.8 million, which was still the third best season on record. But the pie really has not been growing, and if not for snowboarding, would probably be down more. The Northeast as a whole was down almost 9 percent, while the Pacific West was up over 8 percent.

And while Colorado is king of the mountain, it’s also feeling the affects of competition. Colorado set the single-year record at over 11 million skier days, but that was almost a decade ago. They’ve since lost ground to their neighbors to the West.

The increased competition that Vermont faces isn’t just from the Rockies or Oregon or even Canada, it’s also from New York and Pennsylvania, and others, as many states try to keep their skiers home by improving their local ski areas and putting more money into marketing.

But lets face it. In the highly populated East, Vermont is still the destination of choice. The Green Mountains offer the most developed and diverse skiing and riding this side of the Great Divide.

Between the unpredictability of the weather and increasing competition, 5.5 may no longer be a realistic goal. But this is a vital industry for Vermont. And it’s not just the skiers. The ski resorts are important for construction and real estate, as well as associated, four-season recreational activities like golf and mountain biking, and they play a role in the meeting and conference industry.

And while Atlanta may never have direct flights to, say Okemo, transportation to Vermont is pretty easy for most people in the Northeast corridor. Late last winter, the state chipped in $350,000 in marketing money to help save the season – and it worked – the advertising brought more skiers to Vermont. It was one economic development initiative that got results.

This is Timothy McQuiston.

Timothy McQuiston is editor of Vermont Business Magazine.

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