Advocacy for Expanding US Skiing Capacity

tumbleweed

In the parking lot (formerly "At the base lodge")
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The thing I find interesting is that, modulo some noise and yearly fluctuation, the National Ski Area Association claims that skier days have been on a declining trend for a decade or more now. And yet, on the ground, the resorts only seem to be getting busier. Is the qualitative experience misleading somehow? Just a consolidation of skier days into the larger resorts with major decline for the smaller hills? Bad record keeping by the ski areas? Some great conspiracy to fool us all? I have no idea, but I've been wondering about this for awhile.
I would more characterize skier days over the last 20 years to be flat and not really declining. There are obvious fluctuations based on weather and other factors. But here's a chart that gives you a good snapshot.
 
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tomahawkins

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I would more characterize skier days over the last 20 years to be flat and not really declining. There are obvious fluctuations based on weather and other factors. But here's a chart that gives you a good snapshot.
But to @CascadeConcrete 's point: If overall skier visits are flat, what explains the lines, the need for new reservation systems, the parking difficulties, etc.? Is it possible that most areas having been operating at near capacity during the weekends for some time and that a sizable increase in weekend traffic quickly saturates the system? If midweek visits have been flat or declining and weekend visits are up, but then saturate, either because of a hard restriction (parking) or a soft one (people turning away because of crowds), the aggregated data would appear flat even though demand has increased. Has there been a demand shift from midweek to weekends? Is it harder to get away midweek than it use to be? It feels like it. But then again, I've seen a lot of busy days midweek this year...

@Snowfan: Midweek at Taos is looking pretty nice!
 

New2

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Nationally, there is no shortage of small ski areas--quite the opposite, there are significantly fewer skiers paying to visit small ski areas than potential capacity. Looking at specific regions, you can make compelling arguments that more ski terrain is needed, but the evidence suggests that smaller and/or lower-elevation operations face major obstacles trying to compete with bigger resorts even if they're close to urban centers.

The Puget Sound area is a poster child for this phenomenon. Yodelin and Mt. Pilchuck both failed to compete effectively; the various small operations at Snoqualmie only found lasting success once they were consolidated into a single area. So now there are just a few big, crowded alternatives.
Meanwhile, just a little farther away, Mission Ridge is so uncrowded that it has never made an annual profit. Echo Valley, Badger Mountain, Loup Loup, and Hurricane Ridge are pretty much completely ignored by Puget Sound skiers with bigger, closer alternatives.
But if there's a part of the country where one or more small ski areas could compete, the crowded Seattle ski market could well be it. There's a lot of potential ski country owned by the cities of Seattle and Tacoma, as well as the state government. If enough skiers in the region pressured their local and state governments to permit or even subsidize new (or reopened Mt. Pilchuk) alternatives, and then they actually showed up and skied at those alternatives, it would help the congestion at the other areas in the region.

The thing I find interesting is that, modulo some noise and yearly fluctuation, the National Ski Area Association claims that skier days have been on a declining trend for a decade or more now. And yet, on the ground, the resorts only seem to be getting busier. Is the qualitative experience misleading somehow? Just a consolidation of skier days into the larger resorts with major decline for the smaller hills? Bad record keeping by the ski areas? Some great conspiracy to fool us all? I have no idea, but I've been wondering about this for awhile.
Lots of ski areas have closed in the past few decades (so they're no longer helping carry the load); many smaller areas have seen visits flat or decline; better weather forecasting has really hurt visitation numbers on bad-weather days. So mostly legit, I think... the only likely distortion I see is that skiers from outside the US have been increasing but aren't always included in the participation numbers (I'm not specifically calling out any particular source here, I just remember seeing this issue in the past).

While I love to ski I would fight new ski areas on public land tooth and nail. If we are being honest they are a bad for the environment and I would hate to see tens of thousands of acres of public land removed from public use.
Attitudes like this (often without the love of skiing tempering it) are widespread and a real obstacle to any potential public-land development. And for whatever odd combination of reasons, ownership of land that would make good ski terrain in the Western US is hyper-concentrated in Federal hands. And then the remaining fragments' ownership skews heavily toward state, local, and tribal governments.

I'm not proposing a business model. Really I'm just wondering what would be ideal federal and state level policies that would promote a healthier ski environment? And are there enough motivated skiers to lobby the government to affect change?
Not subsidizing small ski areas is the only remaining issue on which Teams Red & Blue agree :ogcool: And at the national level, no I don't think there's anything like enough interested skiers to move the needle.

From the article: "It’s too soon to tell but what is known is that The Mayflower Mountain Resort has been announced, a 5,600 acre resort with somewhere between 400 and 900 skiable acres."

Either the skiable acres is a misprint or Utah's next resort will be a commercial/retail/housing development with a few ski runs.
So far it's looking pretty clearly like a commercial/retail/housing development with a few ski runs connecting to Deer Valley. But presumably there will be people willing to pay for a Mayflower-only lift ticket, so why not sell one?
 

Truberski

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I’ve lived in Park City and now Vermont and both places are rich with skiing options but that is well known and brings the crowds (with or without COVID). Both states are dominated by big resorts and if I ski one of these places on a Saturday it is going to be crowded. If I go any other day (even Sunday) that isn’t a holiday there is no to short lift lines and it is a completely different experience. The “average” of all these days makes it a viable business but I don’t see the industry flexing up capacity to improve the Saturday experience. There are always exceptions where the resort can pull the numbers every single day (Park City) or it is a resort/housing combo (Stratton) but for me that is also part of the problem.

My solution favors the smaller, local places that are 100% focused on skiing (Magic, Bromley, Mad River, Brighton, Powder Mountain, etc.) or be selective on when I ski the big boys (or at least go in with right expectation). I’ll take a lonely slow double chair any day, most places will be busy on a Saturday, and it is good to have choices!
 

Scruffy

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I’ve lived in Park City and now Vermont and both places are rich with skiing options but that is well known and brings the crowds (with or without COVID). Both states are dominated by big resorts and if I ski one of these places on a Saturday it is going to be crowded. If I go any other day (even Sunday) that isn’t a holiday there is no to short lift lines and it is a completely different experience. The “average” of all these days makes it a viable business but I don’t see the industry flexing up capacity to improve the Saturday experience. There are always exceptions where the resort can pull the numbers every single day (Park City) or it is a resort/housing combo (Stratton) but for me that is also part of the problem.

My solution favors the smaller, local places that are 100% focused on skiing (Magic, Bromley, Mad River, Brighton, Powder Mountain, etc.) or be selective on when I ski the big boys (or at least go in with right expectation). I’ll take a lonely slow double chair any day, most places will be busy on a Saturday, and it is good to have choices!
I was reading through this and wondering when Magic and MRG were going to come up. Those are two ski areas swimming up stream. Look at Plattekill in NY, and Black in Maine. Thinking outside the box--Passionate skier investors, co-ops, et al. are the only hope against the wave of conglomeration of the bigger areas. But it cuts both ways, skiers need to support these areas; everyone seems to want to go to the large corp. areas and wait in long lines.
 

Average Joe

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The consumer prefers larger ski areas with high speed lifts, adequate snowmaking, advanced grooming, and a variety of terrain. Off the snow, shopping, restaurants, decent lodging, winter activities to entertain the non skiers.

The ski areas that don't offer what the consumer wants are either subsidized, endowed, or closed.

The era of rural and mountain public development in USA has long passed- new recreational public facilities to provide snow sport access are impossible to build.

In Vermont, the last new ski area was built in 1966. In New Hampshire, 1973.
Compared to Europe, where local towns and villages embrace and promote winter sports, in the US the local towns, states and Feds do everything possible to prevent construction. Today, on the land that makes up many resorts, it takes longer to permit a tool shed than it did to build the original lifts.
If the public objects to lifts, parking lots, hotels, and restaurants, then resorts will forever be limited to existing areas. And the small ones will continue to struggle.

Oddly, we celebrate the history of the mavericks who built the original areas, rightly honoring their achievements with awards and accolades. But if these same 10th Mountain veterans, engineers, and entrepreneurs proposed the same today they would be branded as greedy developers intent on ruining the environment.
Today we reap the benefits of a small window of development, most of it from the late1950's to very early 1970's.
 

Truberski

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Or, Berkshire East in MA with skiing, mountain biking, ropes course, mountain coaster, zip lines, and white water rafting options despite being privately owned, smaller ski area. Pretty cool to see those that aren’t huge but still find a niche to fill that others haven’t tried (or are content with smaller consumer base/revenues).

I may be ”old” before my time but I see/feel a consumer revolt against the corporate ski resorts and more are wanting and accepting of something different. May not have fast lifts, fancy food, and perfect/rockless trails but it’s where I ski most.... And, it helps that I am 15 minutes from a place that offers that experience.
 
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Scruffy

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The consumer prefers larger ski areas with high speed lifts, adequate snowmaking, advanced grooming, and a variety of terrain. Off the snow, shopping, restaurants, decent lodging, winter activities to entertain the non skiers.
There are consumers and then there are skiers :ogbiggrin: Sometimes we're both simultaneously. Not every skier needs all the trappings all the time.

The ski areas that don't offer what the consumer wants are either subsidized, endowed, or closed.
Mostly, but not all.

The era of rural and mountain public development in USA has long passed- new recreational public facilities to provide snow sport access are impossible to build.

In Vermont, the last new ski area was built in 1966. In New Hampshire, 1973.
Compared to Europe, where local towns and villages embrace and promote winter sports, in the US the local towns, states and Feds do everything possible to prevent construction. Today, on the land that makes up many resorts, it takes longer to permit a tool shed than it did to build the original lifts.
If the public objects to lifts, parking lots, hotels, and restaurants, then resorts will forever be limited to existing areas. And the small ones will continue to struggle.

Oddly, we celebrate the history of the mavericks who built the original areas, rightly honoring their achievements with awards and accolades. But if these same 10th Mountain veterans, engineers, and entrepreneurs proposed the same today they would be branded as greedy developers intent on ruining the environment.
Today we reap the benefits of a small window of development, most of it from the late1950's to very early 1970's.
Agree with that.
 

SSSdave

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Current pandemic crowding is an anomaly. In California, levels of public interest in skiing has always followed the level and quality of the considerably variable snow pack.

Environmentalists in California conspired to lock out in wilderness designations what were a number of potential locations on public lands where future ski areas might be built. On the old epicski board I floated the idea of creating a ski area at the best remaining high elevation place in the Eastern Sierra to do so and it was attacked with knee jerk reactions visciously by even many skiers without understanding or considering arguments. A year later someone made sure what I suggested was locked up in a bill.

That reflects the considerable decades long seething hate that has built up between large numbers of non resort skiing environmentalists and the skiing industry. And note as an environmentalist myself I know these people. The area I suggested was and is rarely used by hikers or backpackers. When Californians think of skiing they see what rich real estate interests have done carving up every square inch of available lots of land in the Tahoe region. Disasters like Tahoe Keys.

At least here, expanding and improving infrastructure already at ski resorts is the only avenue likely to work. We have plenty of non express lifts that could increase capacity.
 
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AmyPJ

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Unless there's a real estate play with maybe golf involved, I can't see any sane business person even beginning to think about plunking down the many, many millions it would take to start a ski area from scratch. That's assuming you can even find a place to build one. Throw in a warming climate and I think it would be a hard pass. The best we can hope for is expanding existing areas.
Welcome to the next Yellowstone Club. Located a short distance from my house, it is the main peak I can see from my house to the SW. They are already driving home prices up here, as they move here and buy “cottages” that they’ll live in until their mountain mansions can be finished. The valley residents here are not particularly happy.
https://www.mirrranchgroup.com/ranches/wasatch-peaks-ranch/
 

raytseng

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I'm going to throw out that the entire premise there is a capacity issue and long lines and too many skiers is flawed.
Really people are only remembering peak days and issues with Saturdays or powder day sh*tshows. Those all being human scheduling constructs.

As a whole the majority of ski days in the season are underutilized and not at capacity, and spring skiing is often a money loser and deserted that they close the resorts

If you want to get creative and are proposing drastic changes like fed policies, find a way to get rid of the the 5day m-f workweek and these fixed peak holidays to spread and increase the midweek utilization first before thinking the only solution is needing more terrain just for 20 peak days a year.
 
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pchewn

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If you want to get creative and are proposing drastic changes like fed policies, find a way to get rid of the the 5day m-f workweek and these fixed peak holidays to spread and increase the midweek utilization first before thinking the only solution is needing more terrain just for 20 peak days a year.
Many ski areas are doing this. Mt Hood Meadows sells a "Value Pass" (midweek pass) that costs much less than the pass that is good on weekends and holidays. Their daily lift tickets are "demand priced" meaning you pay a lot more to ski on weekends and holidays. Other areas have similar products to attempt to spread out the skiers away from peak days.
 

raytseng

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Many ski areas are doing this. Mt Hood Meadows sells a "Value Pass" (midweek pass) that costs much less than the pass that is good on weekends and holidays. Their daily lift tickets are "demand priced" meaning you pay a lot more to ski on weekends and holidays. Other areas have similar products to attempt to spread out the skiers away from peak days.
Yep, these are good ideas, from the Supply side.
What I'm talking about is from the Demand side too, e.g. changing policies or the societal constructs so these peak days aren't so peak anymore. While it may seem impossible that you can't dicatate things in a free capitalist society; this is where you need imagination, and the areas where you can change can move the needle enough to reduce the peak days. For example, school districts can coordinate and rotate ski week not just be on President's Day week. Or you can have like the county government is now going to take Jan5th-12th as xmas NewYears holiday instead. The whole concept that the entire nation takes the exact same days off from school and work, just doesn't make sense.
 

Posaune

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But to @CascadeConcrete 's point: If overall skier visits are flat, what explains the lines, the need for new reservation systems, the parking difficulties, etc.?

Has there been a demand shift from midweek to weekends? Is it harder to get away midweek than it use to be? It feels like it. But then again, I've seen a lot of busy days midweek this year...
I've been skiing since 1963 and I can say with some certainty that weekend crowds are smaller now than they were in the 60's and 70's, at least where I ski. This year the crowds are influenced by covid response: reservations, remote schooling, working from home on a more flexible schedule, lack of big ski school bussing operations on weekends. It's skewed things. Wait until next season and we'll probably see things mellow out to more like the old days.
 

Cameron

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We are definitely skiing in interesting times. The local hill has been packed every weekend and even a lot of weekdays and they haven't had the bus loads of never-evers that they normally see on weekends. I've heard reports that the lift lines have been 45-60 minutes in the afternoons, long after I call it a day. I would think the region could certainly support another small ski area if you could manage to find a location with an adequate water supply for snowmaking and the land for parking, a lodge, etc. Seeing the money put in Timberline I am guessing it would be a $20-25 million investment to do it right but long term it could be quite rewarding financially.

The tougher obstacle to over come is spreading out the destination skiers. The multi-resort passes seem to have concentrated skier visits. Then there is the costs which have skyrocketed. After considering options this year I decided to forgo any ski travel due to the costs. Its hard to justify $4-5K for a family ski trip, especially when my wife doesn't like to ski. Next season I will be looking toward smaller more remote ski areas for a vacation but that usually comes with higher travel costs and more time to get there.
 

Errand Wolfe

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Ski areas on public land is still used by the public. I don't follow the objection. The land is being used and the public is welcome to it. So what's the objection?

Limited uphill access, no access during shoulder seasons or during snowmaking, no access during mountain bike season, etc
 

tch

What do I know; I'm just some guy on the internet.
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I'm going to offer another thought: I believe there are a couple of elements playing into the sense that areas are more crowded. The first is the improvement in ski equipment. The other is the advent of high speed lifts. Yes, the high speed lift has pretty much eliminated the long lines of yore (I remember standing in line for 30-40 minutes on a weekend at eastern resorts). But, that corresponding lift speed has meant more folks are actually in the process of the up/down cycle. And...the improvement in skis means more folks are skiing faster and with less effort, so again, they cycle through more quickly. All told, skiers (I believe) are doing more vert per day by a fair bit, and that leads to a perception that places are crowded.

In the old days, it took 10-25 minutes for even an advanced skier to do, say a 1,500' run. So skiers were more spread out across the mountain, working their way downhill. Today, 1,500' is a 5 minute affair. The appetite for harder runs has grown as they have become easier also. All of this speed means that the same number of skiers FEELS like a lot more b/c they are not standing in line or spread out above. They're all on the mountain at the same time with you and me. I may be wrong, but I'd be surprised if most folks got more than 10-13K of vert in a day 20 years ago. Today. it's a simple matter to log 10K before stopping for coffee at 11:00.
 

Posaune

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I'm going to offer another thought: I believe there are a couple of elements playing into the sense that areas are more crowded. The first is the improvement in ski equipment. The other is the advent of high speed lifts. Yes, the high speed lift has pretty much eliminated the long lines of yore (I remember standing in line for 30-40 minutes on a weekend at eastern resorts). But, that corresponding lift speed has meant more folks are actually in the process of the up/down cycle. And...the improvement in skis means more folks are skiing faster and with less effort, so again, they cycle through more quickly. All told, skiers (I believe) are doing more vert per day by a fair bit, and that leads to a perception that places are crowded.

In the old days, it took 10-25 minutes for even an advanced skier to do, say a 1,500' run. So skiers were more spread out across the mountain, working their way downhill. Today, 1,500' is a 5 minute affair. The appetite for harder runs has grown as they have become easier also. All of this speed means that the same number of skiers FEELS like a lot more b/c they are not standing in line or spread out above. They're all on the mountain at the same time with you and me. I may be wrong, but I'd be surprised if most folks got more than 10-13K of vert in a day 20 years ago. Today. it's a simple matter to log 10K before stopping for coffee at 11:00.
Here's another way to look at it:
All things othewise being equal high speed lifts put no more people on the slopes than fixed grips as long as there is a significant line. They pick them up and drop them off at the same rate, between 6 and 12 seconds per chair depending on the lift. High speed lifts have longer lines because they have less people hanging in the air, so they're standing in the line instead. It's only when the lines are short or there is none that the high speed lift puts more people on the hill faster. If there are enough people to make a line on a fixed quad, the line will be significantly longer on a high speed quad serving the same amount of folks. I don't think the speed of lifts has a lot to do with it. The big difference is the move from doubles and triples to quads and six packs.
 
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