Season recap: fewer guests, sales
April 21, 2009
This year was second only to the snow draught of 1976-1977, according to Destination Sports owner Tim Mertens.
"It was very slow. It was the second time I remember things being that bad in town," he said.
With Park City’s ski season officially over last Sunday, snow sports equipment retailers are already looking toward next winter and say they’re expecting more of the same. Many said they’re ordering less merchandise and fewer brands.
Greg Ditrinco, editor of Ski Magazine, said not all ski areas did poorly this winter. Resorts close to urban areas attracted local skiers, especially those in the northeast. It was the destination resorts that were hardest hit.
That’s tough irony for businesses in Park City.
Bill Malone, executive director of the Park City Chamber/Bureau, guessed that skier days for the three resorts weren’t that far off this year, but revenue in town was. People still came to ski, but only for the day.
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"It was a double whammy. Fewer people and people spending less money," he said.
Mertens said he noticed fewer out-of-town skiers needing to rent or buy a lot of equipment.
"The families that ski twice every five years didn’t come. We only saw the ones who ski regularly and come prepared," he said.
Dawn Holz, a manager at Christy Sports, said her rentals were normal this year, but clothing sales were way down.
"It was a perfect storm: a mellow economy and a mild winter," she said.
The colder it is, the more jackets, gloves and pants people buy. With all the sunshine the area had this winter, people were analyzing every purchase.
"You’ve got to have equipment to ski on, food to eat and you have to travel. You don’t have to buy a new outfit," she said.
Greg Ottoson, owner of Aloha Precision Ski and Snowboard, agreed that it was an OK season, but people didn’t buy the big-ticket items like jackets.
Anecdotally, he said he’s totally convinced that fewer destination skiers came this year.
Ryan Smith at Bahnhof shared a common tale. He said clients in the timeshares who normally came and skied for a week were only staying four or five days this year.
Mertens agreed, saying his numbers suggest his average client stayed one fewer day.
That, and discounted room rates, account for the 32 percent decline in transient room tax collected by the county, Malone said.
The Chamber/Bureau’s numbers estimate the lodging count to be down between 10 and 20 percent, depending on the week. But people paid less for those nights, impacting the amount of money the community can collect in taxes and reinvest in marketing.
It’s not all doom and gloom. Many owners and managers had reason for optimism.
Smith said they made before the season based on worst-case scenarios. The season actually finished toward the top of those figures, giving him confidence they’ll make it through next year and on through the end of his lease in 2012.
Holz said her company’s corporate leaders were smart planners and have been trimming back the last two years.
When there were fewer clients in the store, her staff was able to provide better customer service and employees got more skiing in this winter. She referred to the recent boom years as a kind of bubble, and said the current market is more "realistic."
Ditrinco said there’s so much bad news in the industry that it’s hard to create positive spin, but that well-managed resorts, like those in Park City, will weather this slow time. He said the community is well situated to recover.
"Resorts with a strong season pass-holder base did well," he said.
The Park City resorts have branded themselves clearly, Main Street really "delivers" and the changes in liquor laws will bring more visitors when the economy improves, he said.