Resorts Get Early Season Snow Job


Resorts Get Early Season Snow Job

Lack of snowfall doesn't stop resorts or riders.


After touting that the upcoming '98/99 La Niña season would mirror last season's superb El Niño conditions, resorts have been left dealing with quite the opposite.

From coast to coast a majority of the resorts pushed their opening days back due to warm weather. Of course the hardcore riders haven't cared and for the most part visits haven't been that bad. However, opening one run instead of five or six is a big difference.

To get a feel for what early season snowboard visits were like prior to January 1, SNOWboarding Business conducted an informal (rather unscientific) poll of fifteen resorts from Maine to California. Five questions were asked including: Has there been an increase in snowboard visits? What percentage of visitors has been snowboarders? Are you noticing more women snowboarders? Did you open later than you expected? And, did conditions affect the early hardcore snowboard visits? Answers varied, however one general statement seems to be accurate: the early season sucked.

According to several resort representatives, snowboarders jones (slang for uncontrollable anticipation) for snow harder in the off-season than skiers. Because of this, ratios are always weighed greater toward snowboarders in the early season. One resort operator even noticed snowboard tracks on the mountain before the opening day. The hardcores will always show up.

Once the season settles in around the Christmas holiday, ratios of snowboarders to skiers break down to more even levels.

On the East Coast, Sunday River in Maine, Killington and Stratton Mountain in Vermont, Hunter Mountain in New York, and Snowshoe in West Virginia reported fifteen to 30 percent of visitors to be snowboarders (remember these are estimates from marketing types). According to Chris Gamble, a resort manager at Sunday River, “Even though we were open, the warmer temperatures forced us to open one trail at a time.” Gamble says this kept a lot of riders at home–especially when the terrain park didn't open 'til January.

In the Midwest, Boyne Mountain in Michigan, Welch Village in Minnesota, and Rib Mountain in Wisconsin reported twenty- to 70-percent snowboard visitors. Vicki Bernthal, marketing director for Rib Mountain, doesn't know why there's such a high ratio (70 percent) of boarders. “We have a lot of snowboarders and it really picked up this year,” says Bernthal. She believes the main reason is their location on the edge of metropolitan Wausau, Wisconsin.

In the Rocky Mountain area, Copper Mountain and Vail in Colorado, Snowbird in Utah, and Sleeping Giant in Wyoming reported anywhere from 25- to 60-percent snowboard visitors. Kristen Kopplin, communications director for Copper, says, “The numbers up to Christmas were low, but by the end of the year they were above average.”

Out west, 49 Degrees North in Washington, and Alpine Meadows and New Mountain High in California reported 40- to 70-percent snowboard visits. New Mountain High hasn't had the best condition this season, yet reported a 65- to 70-percent ratio in favor of snowboarders. According to Brad Wilson, director of marketing, the reason is because “snowboarders have become the hardcores. They're not looking for the perfect conditions, whereas skiers are waiting for it to snow.”

There was definitely sentiment that women were a big reason snowboard totals were going up. Resorts reported that women's participation was anywhere from average to out of control. Sunday River had receeived so many calls they started a women's camp–a trend several other resorts have begun.

However, according to a lot of the mountains, adults seem to be the bigger trend. A few representatives stated that the kids are pushing parents to start. Apparently moms and dads are watching the kids and feeling the snowboard jones as well.

–Aaron Checkwood