Northeast Skiing Can't Keep Up WIth the West
Length: 1911 words (5.5 double-spaced pages)
Skiers are very loyal athletes. They grow up learning on certain mountains and usually spend most of their lives skiing at those same ones. They remember every bump and turn on the way down. They know which lift to take because it is the fastest and has the shortest line. It takes a lot for a skier to stray from their normal habitat and adventure to slopes unknown.
Actually, it takes two seasons of horrible skiing conditions, which is what the Northeast ski industry has recently suffered. Two long years of rain, ice, sleet, and bitter temperatures. The biggest and best mountains in the Northeast have had their finest trails closed almost all of the 2003-04 season. The less open trails, the more crowded the ones that are open are. The less lifts that are open, the more crowded the open ones are. The more crowded the mountain is, the more angry skiers are. So what do these angry skiers do? They do the unthinkable and look elsewhere. They look west.
“The skiing out West is much better,” said Doug Sabanosh, managing editor of SKI Magazine. “The East is cold, cloudy, and gray while out West we have 300 days of sun.”
Sabanosh grew up skiing in the Northeast, but he has been living in Colorado for the past 15 years. He says that the mountains out there are bigger, which eliminates the problem of crowdedness on the mountain. Trails are wide open, lift lines are short, and the weather is unbelievable. More people are following Sabanosh’s lead and heading out West to look for better skiing. The Northeast is slumping. The past two years have been slow. Resorts here in the East have been doing everything they can to keep their numbers up and stay competitive with the West.
Recently, SKI Magazine came out with its top ten ski areas in North America. The list is voted on by the magazine’s readers. It is based on things such as region, snow, grooming, terrain, challenge, value, lifts, weather, service, and off-hill activities. Not one resort from the Northeast was in that top ten. Six resorts from Colorado made the poll including Vail and Steamboat. Mountains from Utah and Idaho filled in the rest of the list as well as Whistler Mountain in British Columbia. The West dominates this poll. Not even Killington in Vermont, which is one of the biggest mountains in the country, was in the top ten.
It’s not because it isn’t a nice place to ski, it just hasn’t been lately, much like the entire Northeast.
“People would rather ski in the West where the sun is shining in 15 degree weather rather than where it is cloudy and damp in 15 degree weather in the East,” said Sabanosh.
The American Skiing Company owns eight mountains in the United States. They provide great deals on ticket packages. These packages usually include lodging deals, dining plans, and lift tickets. The company comes out with reports every year. In 2003, the total skier visits to the Northeast was 13.7 million. The total in the West was 18.8 million. That’s not too much of a difference at first glance. But, a closer look shows that the total visits to the Northeast include six resorts; Killington, Pico Mountain, Mt. Snow, Attitash/Bear Peak, Sunday River, and Sugarloaf. The 18.8 million visits that the West tallied included just two resorts; Steamboat and The Canyons.
In the company’s 2003 annual report, they continually mention that they have been doing their best to overcome a tough season and that they feel they have done a great job. They put emphasis on the September 11 attacks and claim that it reduced the amount of travel in the United States. Obviously, they stress the positives of the year, but they always seem to somehow mention that it was a tough year and that they did their best.
Chris Wolste works for American Skiing Company. He targets college students and sells the All East College Pass. Also, the American Skiing Company sells ticket packages such as the March Into Spring Pass, which costs $229 and lets you ski at any of the companies eastern resorts until the end of the season. Another pass is the All East Season Pass. The price for this pass varies with age, the lowest price being $30 for five years and under and the highest price is $1349 for ages 19-64.
“We are still selling the college passes,” said Wolste. “But season passes have been selling more for the West.”
Wolste says that the season passes out West go for about $300 where in the East they go for $1000. This huge price difference may be another reason why skiers are looking out west. Also, according to Wolste, the resorts out West are marketed for vacations and attract families and people looking to get away for weeks.
“Sure the weather hasn’t been great here in the East,” said Wolste. “But it’s also that the resorts out west cater more to the vacationer, while here in the East the resorts are mostly for weekend getaways.”
At the end of its fiscal second quarter on January 31, 2004, American Skiing Company had last $21.7 million, according to SAM Magazine. The only reason why it didn’t lose more was because of the improved financial situation at the companies resorts in the West. These resorts helped to compensate for the bad weather conditions and poor performance in the Northeast, according to SAM.
Also, the Resort Revenue for the American Skiing Company was down from last year’s $99 million. This year it was $92.9 million. According to SAM Magazine and the American Skiing Company, this was a result of fewer visits to the eastern resorts. While the visits to Eastern ski resorts are down, Colorado resorts have seen an increase of 3.5 percent from last year. The West just seems to be pulling farther and farther away. Everything is going its way, including skiers.
It’s not just the resorts that the American Skiing Company owns that are feeling the effects. Employees at Bretton Woods ticket office say that they have noticed a change in the past few years. The crowd seems to get smaller by the year, according to employees.
The weather is an obvious reason for the East’s unsuccessful past few seasons. Skiing is a sport that is very unreliable. It’s like baseball. If it’s raining a game can’t be played. And if it is raining and the weather is way below freezing, no one wants to ski. But there’s more to it then weather.
The sport of skiing has changed so much over time. No longer is it just skiers out there. Now the mountain is filled with snowboarders, short skiers, cross county skiers who are downhill skiing, and the newest breed of monoskiers. The monoski is a combination of a snowboard and a ski. Mountains need to keep up to date with the changes of the sport. It takes more then just a half pipe on the mountain to attract snowboarders.
“The terrain parks are very up to date with the best technology in the West,” said Sabanosh. “They have done a great job keeping up with a new generation.”
Vail is the biggest ski area in the West. At Vail, there is an entire peak dedicated to just snowboarding. There is a 400-foot long half pipe, six tabletops, eleven slide rails, a mini quarter pipe, and two huge hips. This is all on just one peak. The boarders have their own peak with it’s own lift. At the top of the peak, they can hang out in the lodge and tune their equipment, play some Sony Playstation, have a drink, or just heat up. At Killington, the largest area in the East, there is a terrain park. But it is no where near advanced as Vail. It’s one big trail, with a smaller half pipe and not as many jumps. Yet, Killington is adding much more to that park in the next few seasons, which is a sign that mountains in the East are still trying to compete.
It takes more then just a great mountain to attract visitors. There has to be something to do after a day of skiing. The town in which the resort is located is almost as important as the actual mountain. The West has always been known as the place to go to party. Vail and Aspen are the hot spots for most young people, both single and married, looking to have a good time.
“The West just has the reputation of a party town,” said Wolste. “Most college students are going to go Vail and Steamboat just because of the reputation.”
There also has to be something for those under the age of 21 to do as well. Skiing is a family sport, which means there has to be activities for all ages. Many resorts, both in the east and west, have excellent programs to keep kids busy all day on the mountain. But, it’s when the kids unbuckle their boots that the parents look for something else to do with them.
“It used to be that the villages were geared towards adults,” said Sabanosh. “But out West I have seen much more of a focus on children’s activities where in the East they are barely starting to change.”
According to Sabanosh, resorts out West, including Vail, Aspen, and Steamboat, are improving their entertainment for children by spending a lot of money. They have built huge facilities where kids can play laser tag, arcades, and go tubing. Sabanosh feels that this is one of the most important aspects of a mountain when trying to attract a large crowd. The East should start to follow the West’s example.
But the East isn’t done yet, not by a long shot. They are in a slump and like any baseball player who is in a slump; they will come out of it. They are already showing signs of improvement. They are doing all they can to attract skiers and keep the ones loyal to them.
Killington recently had an entire week where they offered discounted meals at selected restaurants around the village. Sunday River has senior week where anyone over the age of 50 can buy a package for $55 which includes day and night skiing, wine parties, happy hour, and a group ski and lunch day. Bretton Woods provides nighttime sleigh rides and free cider around a huge fire. Cranmore Mountain has been having free night skiing on selected nights as well. Also, mountains such as Killington, Sugarbush, Cranmore, and Gunstock have been adding elaborate tube courses to their list of activities.
“Tubing is a segment we continue to see grow,” said Dan Egan, General Manager of Gunstock, in an interview with the Boston Globe on Feb. 7.
Hopefully, with all these new ideas, the East can come back to life. It needs to build its resorts into vacation hot spots. There has to be hot night clubs, fun bars, and exciting activities for kids. Their mountains have to be in good shape. All the trails must be open, their terrain parks must be up to date, and their lifts must be running well. This is all happening in the West. The Northeast has to follow the example of the resorts in the West. After that, it’s all up to Mother Nature.