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Checking the pulse of the ski and snow industry 4 decks

Everyone is in a similar boat

The snow-sports industry’s equivalent of the Copenhagen Summit, the SIA Trade Show, took place in Denver January 28-31. A couple of hundred miles down the road, Mt. Crested Butte hosted a meeting of the Colorado Association of Ski Towns this past Friday and Saturday. Combined, the two events provided deep insight into the state of the snow-and-ski economy, highlighting the health of businesses and towns dependent on tourism.

 

 

Overall, the industry is weathering the storm and adapting to the challenging economic climate. That doesn’t mean the industry isn’t struggling—as reflected by some of the statistics that follow. But it could be worse, especially in the towns of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte, where the numbers have us right in the middle and indicate that we are holding our own compared to the rest of the Colorado resorts.

Talking with the Towns
The Colorado Association of Ski Towns (CAST) is an organization of 25 municipalities whose economy is largely dependent upon tourism. Their meeting in Mt. Crested Butte was revealing, as resort towns from across the state talked sales tax, transfer tax, and other common issues affecting the municipalities. Members include the mayors and managers of the resort towns. “CAST members use the power of the coalition to seek support for legislation that will benefit and sustain the mountain communities,” according to the organization’s website.
CAST Executive Director Joyce Burford reported that most of the towns, as of November 2009, are down in sales tax from 10 percent to 15 percent.
“Towns like Mt. Crested Butte, Aspen, Frisco, Vail, Telluride and Steamboat are running more on the high end, towards 15 percent,” she said.
“Mountain Village [in Telluride] reported as high as 20 percent down.”
“It seems like the more remote the town is access-wise, they tend to suffer a little bit more,” Burford added. From a marketing perspective, Burford said, “I have noticed Mt. Crested Butte really has put themselves out there with their message, really done a great job in their branding.”
Locally, Mt. Crested Butte is right in the thick of things as far as sales tax numbers go, according to Mt. Crested Butte Mayor and CAST President William Buck.
For the members, “Sales tax is down anywhere from 10 percent to 18 percent across the board,” Buck said. “Mt. Crested Butte is down about 15 percent.”
Real estate transfer tax (RETT) is down 30 percent to 50 percent among the same municipalities, though Mt. Crested Butte doesn’t have a transfer tax. Crested Butte’s RETT came in about 14 percent down for 2009 compared to 2008. The town collected $830,000 in RETT last year.
Mt. Crested Butte Finance Officer Karl Trujillo reported sales tax numbers for December were down 12 percent; he also confirmed that for 2009, Mt. Crested Butte was down about 15.5 percent compared to 2008.
Town of Crested Butte Finance Director Lois Rozman said preliminary sales tax figures for December show the town down 12 percent in December. That would mean overall, Crested Butte is down 9.9 percent for the year. “We’ve held our own in resort communities,” Rozman said. “We’re not excited about it but we’ve done okay compared to other similar towns. The CAST meeting had some much scarier reports.”
Jim Schmidt, Crested Butte councilperson, attended the meetings and said most resort towns were reporting sales tax declines of between 12 percent and 17 percent for the year. “If we’re only down 9.9 percent for the year, that’s good,” he said.
In contrast, Buck said skier days are reported to be up 1 percent on average across Colorado’s resorts and ski areas. “Using the indicator of skier days might not be as accurate an indicator as sales tax,” Buck concluded. “Skier days are up about 1 percent but that doesn’t translate to bottom-line dollars.”
CBMR’s vice president for sales and marketing Daren Cole said skier days are just one part of the equation. “We look at a number of metrics that help us determine how we are doing,” said Cole. “Skier days can be misleading in that they are made up of a wide range of skier types, and some that spending more than others on a daily basis. The other measurements we look at are average spending per guest or yield, and certainly our bottom line revenue is the best indicator.
“Only about 10 percent of people pay full price at the ticket window,” Cole added. “The majority of skier visits annually are made up from Pass Holders, Groups, Wholesale, Online and tickets purchased in lodging packages, which are all discounted.  A ski area may charge $90 at the window for a one-day, full-price ticket but the actual yield when you look at all ticket types sold is around $45-$50 excluding season passes.”
Mayor Buck also said there was a freeze on Department of Local Affairs grants at the moment, so it will be harder for municipalities to apply for the non-specific grants which can be used for everything from sidewalks to education. That word came as unwelcome news at the CAST meeting. “Everybody is buckling down, getting their ducks in a row for when grants will be available again, possibly in a year,” said Buck.
As far as forecasting for the rest of the ski season, Buck said: “Everyone is trying to batten down the hatches right now, and are holding tight.”

Snow Summit in Denver
Snowsports Industries America (SIA) hosted its snow-sports trade show in Denver for the first time, and numerous local business owners, athletes, buyers and representatives were there.
CBMR spokesperson Kirsten Texler made the trip to Denver. “The SIA Snow Show Denver was an opportunity for media, product and resort representatives and buyers, and others with a vested interest in the success of the ski industry to meet face-to-face to brainstorm, network and compare notes,” Texler said. “Opportunities for Crested Butte Mountain Resort included three radio interviews live and taped for replay in Denver markets, a photo and blurb in the Denver Post with the Pavilions outpost and chalk drawing, the solidification of participation of several brands for spring on-snow Crested Butte events, and the collection of [and inclusion in] the 385-page Snow Sport Directory, a comprehensive book with invaluable contact information for in-house use, and reference for interested media.”
The News caught up with local competitive snowboarder Kyle Anderson at the SIA On-Snow Ski and Snowboard Demo at Winter Park on Tuesday. He was there checking out a bunch of next year’s boards and bindings.
“It’s pretty cool—it seems like there are more people here than On-Snow’s I’ve been to in the past,” Anderson said. “It would be cool if in the future they could add some contests and things like that.”
When asked whether he liked the venue change from Las Vegas to Denver, Anderson said, “It’s not Vegas, but it’s still pretty fun. And I survived. I didn’t like that it was held during X Games though.
“I do think it makes sense to have a snow show where there is snow,” he added.
Colorado Ski Country USA (CSCUSA) represents 22 Colorado ski resorts. They say Colorado accounts for approximately 20 percent of ski and snowboard visits in the United States; and despite total skier visits being down 5.5 percent across the United States, Colorado saw almost 12 million skiers during the 2008-09 season.
According to CSCUSA Public Affairs Manager Ari Stiller-Schulman, “In terms of its impact on the Colorado ski industry, the SIA Snow Show was a great success. Although the show was only open to product suppliers and retailers in the snow sports industry, we think that the buzz that it generated got a lot of Coloradans excited about going skiing. We hope that having all of these snow sports industry leaders here will also have a positive long-term effect, when these people go home and tell their customers and other contacts just how much fun they had in our state.
“Additionally, since this was the show’s first year in Colorado, we saw it get a lot of attention from the media and elected officials with whom we work here at Colorado Ski Country,” Stiller-Schulman added. “I toured Senator Udall around the showroom floor. He was very happy that the largest global trade show in snow sports came to Colorado, and that it’s here to stay for the next 10 years.”

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