Official: Resorts need to offer more than skiing


By Kathryn Reed

TRUCKEE – If ski resorts don’t become year-round playgrounds, they are going to be out of business. In large part, this is because climate change is bringing less snow to the slopes.

This was the message delivered Nov. 12 by Bob Roberts, president of the California Ski Industry Association. The Truckee-Donner Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting was filled with industry representatives.

Winters are warming and that means less snow falling in the Sierra. While snowmaking will help save the industry, it won’t be enough. And this is especially true when the drive-up market heads to the slopes when Mother Nature dumps, not when the man-made stuff is blown.

Roberts points to how dramatically things have changed in his lifetime. Five significant glaciers were on Mount Shasta when he worked at that resort. Now, he said, they are slivers.

“We need to stop thinking of them as ski resorts and see them as mountain resorts,” Roberts said. “We’re seeing it here in Tahoe.”

Resorts in Tahoe have been trying to stay ahead of the game as they invest in the on-mountain product. Rope courses, ziplines and other play structures are for the most part year-round activities and not limited to just when there is no snow.

Bob Roberts, president of the California Ski Industry Association, talks Nov. 12 in Truckee. Photo/Kathryn Reed

Bob Roberts, president of the California Ski Industry Association, talks Nov. 12 in Truckee. Photo/Kathryn Reed

Roberts pointed out how this summer $100 million was invested in Tahoe area resorts. He noted even a small resort like Sierra-at-Tahoe spent $4.5 million. Then there are the bigger players like KSL (owner of Alpine and Squaw Valley) and Vail Resorts (parent company of Heavenly, Kirkwood and Northstar) that are spending even more. In the last three years KSL will have spent $46 million on its two resorts.

A four-season resort is what ski resorts need to evolve into, Roberts said.

The Tahoe area is responsible for 53 percent of the California skier visits, though 57 percent of the spending occurs here. This equates to $58 million a year in local taxes, Roberts said. Resorts account for 1,700 full-time employees and 7,200 seasonal.

Another concern for ski resorts is fewer people are skiing and snowboarding. Roberts said K2 snowboard sales are down 50 percent. The average number of newbies to skiing-snowboarding across the country has been 1 million. That figure dropped to 850,000 last season.

“We have to get this thing jacked back up. We need to make sure they are hooked and want to continue on,” Roberts said of new skiers and riders.

Between 8.5 million and 10.5 million people from the U.S. ski or snowboard each year. Weather is usually the factor that makes the number fluctuate. The British market is still strong, while the Chinese sector is increasing.

The Asian and family markets are growing in California, while seniors has leveled off.

The demographic that is changing is singles and those younger than 18. They aren’t hitting the slopes. That, Roberts said, is something the industry needs to keep its eye on.


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Comments (17)
  1. Perry R. Obray says - Posted: November 13, 2013

    K2 is a has been, inflexible company outsourcing manufacturing to China, trying to live off an old successful name. Mervin mfg. apparently took off where the old classic K2 left off at. Obviously this doesn’t negate the change in weather patterns.

  2. A.B. says - Posted: November 13, 2013

    What a farce. First off, cut the crap on the climate change. I’ve been skiing in Tahoe since 1975. The two worst years Tahoe has seen for snowfall since records were kept were 1976 & 1977. In 1976, total precipitation in Tahoe was 6.77 inches of water equivalent precipitation.

    The issues with Tahoe are over regulation and excessive costs for visitors and locals alike. Lower the regulatory burdens, and you’ll see more visitors spending money here.

    The cost of skiing is also way out of control. It used to be that kids would ski free, and a family of 4 could afford a weekend getaway in Tahoe. Now, a family of four can look to spend a solid $1,200 for a weekend in Tahoe.

    You want to know why fewer people are hitting the slopes? Look at the cost structure of doing so.

    Tahoe was once an affordable getaway. It is no longer affordable.

  3. tahoeadvocate says - Posted: November 13, 2013

    I know a family who comes every February. They used to ski every day but now they limit it to only a couple due to the cost. Their income is the same but the cost has gone up.

  4. Dogula says - Posted: November 13, 2013

    When I moved to Tahoe in 1980, Sierra Ski Ranch lift tickets were $18. Now they’re $84. Granted, they didn’t do much grooming back then, wages they paid their people were lower, and the general public was not so lawsuit happy. But still. . .

  5. BijouBill says - Posted: November 13, 2013

    So you believe that the President of the California Ski Industry Assoc., Mr. Roberts, and leaders of the ski business around the world should ignore the overwhelming scientific evidence of climate change? Maybe the 100s of millions of dollars being invested by these industry experts are a necessary economic survival effort they are making because that overwhelming evidence is already completely clear to them. Or maybe they should listen to you because you started skiing in Tahoe in the 70’s, hate gubmint and you believe science denier websites written by a miniscule percentage of peer-reviewed scientists. Get real. These people are not clueless dupes, they are facing reality.

  6. A.B. says - Posted: November 13, 2013

    You obviously missed my point Mr. Bill.

    First & foremost, the climate has been changing since the beginning of time. So to insinuate that mankind can alter the climate is a farce.

    Second, in the mid-late 1970’s, we experienced very arid winters here. It didn’t stop people from visiting.

    What has stopped people dead in their tracks is cost, period, bottom line.

    Another element of this is regulatory burdens. People came to Tahoe to get away from government intrusion. Regulatory burden harms businesses, and drives up costs.

  7. BijouBill says - Posted: November 13, 2013

    I most certainly did not miss any portion of the point you are attempting to make. Blaming gov’t regulation for the destruction of the ski industry’s customer base and ignoring climate change(because you and limpaugh and 3% of climate scientists say so) is the farcical, simplistic teabag nonsense that absolutely nobody involved with ski resort ownership would agree with. That’s why they’re facing reality and moving forward with huge investments to protect their company’s economic viability in the future. Reaganomics is the problem that has destroyed the economy, harmed businesses and driven costs up and out of the reach of many former Tahoe visitors. The sooner we reverse those stupid policies the sooner we get back on track for a successful middle class. That’s when people will be able to get decent paying jobs that allow them to vacation with their families on a yearly basis again. Here’s a clue: nothing is going to trickle down and there’s not enough uber-wealthy people to support the ski industry, period, bottom line.

  8. ljames says - Posted: November 13, 2013

    Entertaining to say the least – but it’s apples and oranges really – so yes we have to be worried about potential climate and weather cycles regardless of cause, and yes the shift from family run to corporate run resorts has changed the face and price tag of skiing to the detriment of others in a ski resort town that do not own the ski resort itself. And I think that is an important issue here – we should be worried about the town, not just the ski resorts – what is good for Vail is most certainly not necessarily good for South Lake Tahoe.

  9. Dogula says - Posted: November 13, 2013

    When ASC owned Heavenly, season passes were over $800. Since Vail has owned Heavenly season passes have been in the low $300’s. And the employees are nicer, amenities much better.
    Why do so many people hate Vail?

  10. observer says - Posted: November 13, 2013

    Global warming is real, actual measurements document this. And yes it waxes and wanes as data also proves. The current trend is clearly warmer, and it is useless to look back at historical or prehistorical data, given man’s short time here on earth as the primary species over-running the earth. Anyone who does not believe the foregoing is an unseeing, unthinking, head in the sand, follower.
    (I worked hard here to avoid saying idiot)

    The real questions which do not have an answer are, can peoples activity (burning fossil fuels etc) have escalated a normal process? And, can peoples activity have a slowing affect on the current warming cycle?

    Certainly, given the facts that there are, one of which is ski areas are needing to make snow to sustain their business, it is nonsense to answer NO to either of the above questions. POSSIBLY is a much safer answer and this means that steps should be taken which might help, as opposed to just living with it and taking our chances.

    Wonder what the carbon footprint of a resort making snow looks like? Vail’s Kirkwood is doing it by burning oil! Yes I know, they are hooking to the grid and than makes it all better. RIIIIIGHT!!! I wonder how many fixed income retirees who are members of the Kirkwood Municipal Utilities District are worried about their ability to continue using their homes at the ‘Wood.

    I digressed, however. So the ski resorts are supposed to diversify, and one by one they are or are contemplating turning into year ’round amusement parks of one stripe or another. This is to get more customers to pay the over-inflated costs of lift tickets, zip lines, bike parks etc.

    The resorts already lease vast portions of surrounding national forests. Given enough political horsepower and crooked congressmen, they might even succeed in putting turnstyles on the trails into the woods too. Imagine, 7 bucks to park (Forest service already does this), 5 bucks/head to walk on the trail to Round Lake….if you want to go on into desolation it is another 10 bucks/head. Impossible? Unfortunately I don’t think so.

    A final comment about Mr. Roberts’ thought that young people need to get “hooked and want to continue on): It seems many young people have already made their choice based on economic, social and other realities.
    Recent statistics show 16 year old kids are not getting drivers licenses in droves compared to their parents generation. Cellphones are more important than cars, and the costs of pursuing skiing seem to be having the same affect on resorts.

    In the entire country, the disposable income which Resorts thrive on is becoming distributed more and more to fewer and fewer.

    A business model that is built on getting a growing number of dollars out of a shrinking number of customers seems to be less than likely.

    The next years are going to be very interesting in the mountains.

  11. worldcycle says - Posted: November 13, 2013

    For those who obviously care, here is the definition of climate. Climate consists of the averages of precipitation, temperature, humidity, sunshine, wind velocity, phenomena such as fog, frost, and hail storms, and other measures of the weather that occur over a long period in a particular place. For determining climate change, the long period generally consists of a 30 year period.

    I am not saying that I believe or disbelieve it, yet I do believe that one cannot predict what climate change will bring to Tahoe. I have included a link that shows a graph for snowfall on Donner Summit compiled for the last 132 years. The graph only shows snowpack vs. snowfall. Only two variables that make up the climate of Donner Summit. Also note that snowpack is not dependent on total snowfall. Does all this prove anything? Can anyone looking at this chart going to be able to tell me anything about climate change and where it has affected us most? Or better yet, based on what is presented here, what the next 20 years is going to bring?

    Ask me what this winter will bring in April, I just might be able to give you a somewhat credible answer.

  12. Dogula says - Posted: November 13, 2013

    Observer, would it be better, in your opinion, if the mountains were all declared “wilderness area” instead? At least this way, we the people are provided ways to access the mountains. When the Federal government turns vast swaths of land into wilderness areas, it eliminates use by all but the very fittest and most energetic. Hardly fair to the majority of people who supposedly own the ‘public lands’.

  13. cosa pescado says - Posted: November 13, 2013

    Dog, look at the directive of the USFS. The phrase ‘multi use’ is in there, and it a big part. Part of that is to cater to people who want absolute solitude.
    Yo0u make such a big deal about Wilderness expansion. What % of federal land is Wilderness? What % of USFS is?
    Take a guess. I haven’t looked it up yet. I bet you over estimate it by a lot.

    ‘Also note that snowpack is not dependent on total snowfall. Does all this prove anything?’
    Well the two measurements are different. A better way to look at climate would be something that is dependent on a few factors. Like peak run off.
    Congratulations, you are the first person to ever put a number to climate. And got it right.

    Did everyone read that?
    30 ‘weathers’ make 1 ‘climate’.

  14. Dogula says - Posted: November 13, 2013

    “Dog, look at the directive of the USFS. The phrase ‘multi use’ is in there, and it a big part. Part of that is to cater to people who want absolute solitude”
    Really?!? The Forest Service is supposed to guarantee that you can have absolute solitude? *snort* That’s a new one. I seriously doubt you could get ANYONE in the FS to defend that position.
    So, while you’re doing your research, why don’t you look at what percentage of Federal land is covered by ski resorts as compared to wilderness. I’ll wager we have a lot more wilderness. And they’re trying to confiscate a lot more of our land for wilderness as I type. New ski areas? Not so much.

  15. Jeremy Evans says - Posted: November 14, 2013

    How dare ski industry officials hijack the climate change argument and use it to defend their push for year-round mountain playgrounds. This is a business decision to generate revenue over a 12-month span instead of having a business model that generates revenue for six months. Climate change is not causing ski resort profits to decrease. A dramatic drop in skier/rider participation and the increased cost of doing those activities are to blame. Irresponsible.

  16. go figure says - Posted: November 14, 2013

    The comments by dogface regarding wilderness and its purpose just show how ignorant this person is and how absurd the argument is. Im flabbergasted, once again, by this persons ignorance. I am a retired forest service recreation specialist and providing for solitude is in the Wilderness bill. Maybe you should educate yourself. So snort away…

  17. rock4tahoe says - Posted: December 5, 2013

    Hey Dogula!

    “The farther one gets into the wilderness, the greater is the attraction of its lonely freedom.”

    “A grove of giant redwood or sequoias should be kept just as we keep a great and beautiful cathedral.”

    “It is also vandalism wantonly to destroy or to permit the destruction of what is beautiful in nature, whether it be a cliff, a forest, or a species of mammal or bird. Here in the United States we turn our rivers and streams into sewers and dumping-grounds, we pollute the air, we destroy forests, and exterminate fishes, birds and mammals — not to speak of vulgarizing charming landscapes with hideous advertisements. But at last it looks as if our people are awakening.”

    Teddy Roosevelt. (he also protected about 170 million acres of land via Wilderness Protection and he was a Republican President!)