Many Nordic ski areas across the nation had a great season despite the “Whiplash Winter,” which threw a few curveballs at ski area operators. Here’s a snapshot of the 2016-17 winter from cross country (XC) ski resorts far and wide:
Tahoe Donner Cross Country Center in Truckee, CA had a fantastic winter season overall, including excellent snow conditions over Christmas and New Year’s. January alone was a record-breaking month for snowfall. The base area at Tahoe Donner Cross Country received 530” of snow this winter, which is significantly above the average of 450” per winter season. People were visiting just to see what the buzz was about. The season pass and day ticket sales were exceptionally high. They saw a lot of new folks taking lessons or trying XC skiing, taking advantage of the great conditions and they reported that fat biking has taken off in the past couple of years.
Methow Trails in eastern WA was open 115 days with the season ending on April 2. They groomed over 16,000 miles and were up 10% in revenue for the season with the best ever season pass sales. The Methow community keeps growing in winter visitation with skiers primarily coming from the Seattle area. They’re 4 hours away from Seattle but Seattleites enjoy going to the Methow for snow and sunshine! There’s also good visitation from Canada as they offer Canadians the prices on par. Methow Trails is still very enthusiastic for the fat bike trend as they saw an increase in people trying fat biking this season.
At the Sun Mountain Lodge in Winthrop, WA retiring ski operator Don Portman reported they had a great winter season, which was cold with lots of great hard wax classic skiing. The groomers were thrilled since it was mostly easy snow to groom and no grinding ice. The Christmas holiday period was strong and business was good.
The rental equipment and lesson numbers were down slightly over last year, which was the best year ever. Fat biking continued to grow in the valley and there has been an expansion of fat bike trails away from the ski trails at a local state park. The lodge is also seeing growth in snowshoeing and even though the snowshoe rental fleet was increased this past season, they still almost ran out on a couple of busy weekends. There are some spectacular snowshoe trails and people were very happy using them. There was also an increased use and interest in skin based off track skis such as Altai Hoks (brand model of short wide waxless skis that are like snowshoes), and the new waxless track skis with attached skins.
The past XC ski season at Devil’s Thumb Ranch (DTR) in Tabernash, CO started the day before Thanksgiving and finished on April 9th with four and a half months of great snow. The Stagecoach Classic, which is a point-to-point race attracted 450 racers from across the country and one of the season’s highlights was the Women's Ski and Spa in February attracting about 110 women, which gathered great reviews from the participants.
According to the resort manager, “There was an increase in skier traffic about 20% above the previous season and the DTR activity center was busier during the week. The factors explaining those trends includes the growing population of Colorado, retired baby boomers are active and tend to come during the week, the price of XC skiing is affordable for families, the state does a great job of maintaining the roads making a day trip from the Front Range accessible. The terrain at DTR is vast and varied with 80km of trails, attracting both beginners and experts (college racing teams come to train because the trails are groomed daily and the snow remains very good throughout most of the season with the cold temperatures in the Tabernash area at 9000 feet). The people who stay at the resort get a ski in-and-out experience.”
At Sun Valley Nordic Center, they topped the previous season with 112 days of operation. About a quarter of the visits were by snowshoers and 95% of the ski lessons were private. Nordic Director Ivana Radlova commented, “The snow seemed to be coming every day after the first appearance and the mountains of snow made for some great skiing, but also brought some challenges with grooming and visibility. There was a noticeable lack of sunshine this winter in Sun Valley and there were more people Nordic skiing or snowshoeing who would be ordinarily alpine skiing who came largely due to the weather – flat light, snow storms. One day the mountain had to close all together and the Nordic trails had a whole bunch of folks with helmets and goggles showing up for some skinny skiing.” There was some interest in fat biking at Sun Valley Nordic, but conditions were rarely perfect for them as the ski trails were often soft and the bikes would leave deep ruts, which annoyed the skiers.
Mariah Frye of Cross Country Ski Headquarters in Roscommon, MI reported that December snow set the stage for a successful season, which was a bit above the annual average. She saw more new faces at the area such as retired baby boomers and people who exercise attributing to the US Ski Team success in cross country skiing and attractive rates at the area. The season pass is only $38.00 at Cross Country Ski Headquarters and they did great with rentals and selling retail ski packages.
Trends at the area include the popularity of skin technology on ski bases and events that engage more people combining cross country skiing and snowshoeing with yoga, live music, and food events.
Maplelag Resort in Callaway, MN commented that early snow was great for them to host a record number of high school ski team attendees at their early season ski camps and that snow lasted through the warm weather in February. Fat biking has taken off and Maplelag is grooming some specific trails for fat bikers. The season was a bit above the average and owner Jay Richards stated, “People have expressed their appreciation for our family-owned operation and made-from-scratch home cooked food service.”
At Jackson XC in NH spokesperson Deb Deschenes stated, “What a great season it was!” Mother Nature blessed us with over 110 inches of snow this past season providing us with an amazing platform for some of the best Nordic skiing in years! We enjoyed over 112 skier days this season with our skier visits up and ski school held strong with numbers beating the past 3 years. First time skier visits were up, vacation weeks were boasting with families young and old, all enjoying fresh powder week after week! The spring skiing season extended into mid-April. Jackson XC also added 3 new trails for three miles of fantastic new terrain, held 2 ribbon cutting ceremonies, installed new bridges, and entered into an agreement for permanent easements!”
At Great Glen Outdoor Outdoor Trails Center they “had a very solid season all in all. Once winter got going it was quite good with lots of ups and downs in temperature and snow, but constantly good skiing throughout. Compared to the last 3 or 4 MLK weekends, this was one of our best ever and our demo day on MLK Saturday was huge. Day passes were up slightly, season passes up significantly, SnowCoach up huge, tubing up significantly. Snowshoeing continues to grow along with snowshoe rentals. Retail, oddly, was flat probably because the snow didn’t start until after Christmas.”
The Woodstock Inn Resort in central Vermont reported an “outstanding season with 109 operating days! A little thin at times, but generally great skiing throughout the winter. There was great skiing and weather both Christmas week and February break week, which were major contributors to a successful season. Retail shop sales and lessons were also very strong this winter. “
At Lapland Lake in NY, “Snowfall was 104” compared to an average of 116” and total ski days were 110 compared to an average of 109. The weather challenged us repeatedly with unusually warm and rainy conditions. Snow patterns in nearby metro areas, which help motivate our customers to turn out and ski, were not great.
“Snow came in early December giving people the lead time and confidence to plan visits over the Christmas/New Year’s holiday and we had a great holiday season. Overall winter weather was a bit on the warm side and conditions became a bit challenging as we moved into March and during those weeks we chose to focus on quality over quantity closing parts of our trail system. Then the 20-inch storm on March 14th brought us back to almost 100% operation and gave us outstanding conditions until our last day of operation on April 3rd.
Compared to 2015-16 we saw a dramatic improvement in ski lessons and ski equipment sales. Ski lesson volume more than doubled from the previous year. This tells us that new people continue to discover the sport, and that experienced skiers are committed to continuing and often expanding their personal range of XC ski activities.
In the Lake Placid, NY area reports from the Olympic Sports Complex showed an incredible increase of skier days that was 30% above the average year and a great increase in revenue per skier while being open for 139 operational days. They’ve categorized experiences for guests with a “Discover” program for cross country skiing and biathlon, guided tours for activities at Josie’s Cabin a short distance destination along the trails, weekly baby boomer camaraderie programs, and invigorating ski clubs in nearby towns. The Complex is a former Olympic site with a stadium and it is now experimenting with the Snow Factory that can produce machine-made snow at temperatures up to 60 degrees. They plan is to start making snow next September so a ski loop can be open in October for team training programs.
In the southeast region at Whitegrass in WV there was record breaking interest and participation in their Winter Discovery snowshoe walks that touched on different natural history subjects.
Long time XC ski guru Chip Chase said, “We experienced one of our busiest ski days ever in early February when all the perfect conditions converged and one of the busiest Sundays ever in March when loyal customers flooded the trails in order to support our efforts. Season passers, mostly from out of town, were stronger than ever as skiers are more than willing to support us. Our rental and sales fleet have never been better, trails and grooming the best it’s ever been, and basically all we need is SNOW! We lost every holiday to rain or no snow except New Year’s Day, yet a few other busy weekends took us over the top to make it financially.” Some of the biggest trends at Whitegrass include wider skis and more interest in backcountry skiing, and a younger crowd.
While much of the success is related to getting snow, the ski areas are developing programs and efforts to take advantage of winter to make it happen and withstand the ups and downs of the climate.