Snow Industry Newsletter

Feb, 20, 2018      Volume 40, No. 8
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Conditions are mixed midway through one of the biggest weeks of the season for the nation’s ski industry, with the Rockies finally getting huge dumps, and the East and West Coasts struggling with warmth and lack of snow, according to published reports.
In the Rockies and Cascades, Winter Storm Oliver brought another burst of snow through Sunday, then spread into the Midwest. When everything is said and done, snowfall will be measured in multiple feet in the Washington and Oregon Cascades, Idaho’s Bitterroot Mountains and Wyoming’s Tetons and Absaroka Mountains
Portions of Montana had already picked up as much as 18 inches of snowfall through Saturday. Up to 16 inches of snow had been measured in parts of the Washington Cascades as of late Saturday.
Utah and Colorado ski resorts are also reporting enviable conditions, with snowfall measuring in feet at many popular resorts. “Winter is back and Aspen is back to form being the greatest ski resort in the universe. Wow! What a difference a week and 50 inches of snow make!” resident Mike Marolt tweeted.
Unfortunately, snowfall amounts in the snow-starved Sierra will once again be rather unspectacular by mid-February standards.
And in New England, after a good start, earlier conditions  have deteriorated in a thaw-freeze cycle. With temperatures expected to hit the 60s in Burlington, VT, on Wednesday, things are not looking good for the near future.
The long-range forecast looks more hopeful. predicts: The remainder of February will favor powder in the western US and Canada while the east stays warm. Then, as we transition into March, the weather pattern will shift slightly, and this should bring colder weather and snow to the west coast as well as the east coast.
The ribbon was cut last Wednesday on the final major development at Jay Peak, VT, coming just a few months before the resort is expected to hit the market in search of a buyer, according to VTDigger.
The 800-plus EB-5 investors who were defrauded in a massive Northeast Kingdom redevelopment scheme will likely get most of their money back with the sale of Jay Peak as well as the nearby Burke Mountain ski area and other properties.
Wednesday marked the official opening of the latest development project to be completed at the resort, the Clips & Reels Recreation Center, a roughly $5 million movie house, wall-climbing center and arcade that is part of the resort’s Stateside project.
Michael Goldberg, the court-appointed receiver for Jay Peak Resort, Burke Mountain Resort and properties in Newport, says the recent Securities and Exchange Commission settlement with the two men who perpetrated the Ponzi-like fraud – Miami businessman Ariel Quiros and former Jay Peak CEO Bill Stenger – has cleared the way for the sale of both properties.
In the settlement with the SEC, Quiros agreed to surrender properties he had totaling more than $81 million, including his ownership stake in both Jay Peak and Burke Mountain. Also as part of the settlement, Stenger agreed to pay a $75,000 penalty.
Goldberg plans to market the properties together as early as May, and he expects to sell the two resorts before the next ski season. The settlement, he says, clears the titles for the hotel at Burke Mountain, and the hotel complexes, condos, water park and other amenities at Jay Peak Resort. In addition, the investors now own Jay Peak and Burke mountains and the ski operations.
This greatly benefits the foreign investors, Goldberg said, because the mountains were never part of their original investments in the EB-5 program. Ultimately, it means the investors could recoup millions of dollars more than originally anticipated from a sale, depending on how much the properties sell for.
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In the peaks near Lake Tahoe, Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows ski resorts plan to become the country’s first resorts to operate entirely on renewable energy by December, according to published reports.
Squaw Valley also plans to build a mountain-side structure that will contain batteries to store some of that energy.
Last year, another Tahoe-area resort, Boreal Mountain, installed 715 solar panels on the roof of its indoor sports facility on the base of the resort’s mountain. About two miles away, the Soda Springs ski resort began using 100% recycled water in 2015 for all of its snowmaking efforts.
Vail Resorts – which owns 11 ski resorts in states from Vermont to California – has vowed to eliminate all emissions and waste sent to landfills for the entire company by 2030.
Aspen Skiing Company has been in the business of clean energy since 2004 and generates 24 million kilowatt hours, annually, of renewable energy from utilities they own.
Small ski areas are in the renewable energy business, too. Mount Abram Ski Area, ME, has 800 solar panels installed in their parking lot. Mount Ashland Ski Area, OR, generates 25,000 kilowatt hours of energy from rooftop solar panels installed on the garage for its snowcats.
“We believe climate change is one of the most significant challenges facing every country, every business and every person on our planet, and we all have a shared responsibility to address it,” said Beth Ganz, Vail Resorts’ vice president of public affairs and sustainability.
Ski resort operators say there is a sound business reason behind such efforts. Not only do the resorts expect to save money over the long run by turning to renewable energy and cutting waste, but they also hope to appeal to skiers – particularly millennials – who put a premium on environmentally friendly travel destinations.
A long-awaited alpine ski area in Hatcher Pass, AK, is a step closer to reality with a new name: Skeetawk.
The name, announced at an event Saturday, is a phonetic spelling of a Dena’ina word – Shk’ituk’t -that translates to “where we slide down,” according to Louisa Branchflower, board president for Hatcher Alpine Xperience.
The nonprofit is trying to bring a new downhill ski area to the Talkeetna Mountains northwest of Palmer. Members began two years ago trying to build a lift-served area in Hatcher Pass, already a popular winter destination for its early-season snow, ample terrain and scenic mountain views.
The area is groomed and open weekends. A $500,000 grant from the Mat-Su Health Foundation allowed the nonprofit to work toward the purchase of a triple chairlift and hire a part-time executive director. The group hopes to open for the 2019-20 ski season.
The board wanted to set the ski area apart from the larger Hatcher Pass area and its many different user groups, Branchflower said.
In late 2016, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough entered an agreement with the organization to operate the ski area.
The first phase of the project includes a 2,400-square-foot shed for a snowcat, 6 miles of trail clearing, temporary warming facilities and the beginner chairlift. The next phase includes a parking lot, an updated access road, a day lodge and a high-speed quad lift.
Another small ski area, Hickory Hills, MI, could see a decision as to its application for a special use permit. The final word could come as soon as Feb. 28, according to published reports.
Garfield Township Planning Commissioners directed township Planner Rob Larrea to document why he believes plans to overhaul the ski hill are compatible with the township’s master plan and zoning rules. Commissioners need these findings of fact to approve or reject a special use permit for the project.
Approving the special use permit would be the last major step before township officials. Traverse City, which owns the park, would then seek construction and other permits.
Planning commissioners’ move last week is good news for Preserve Hickory co-founder Maureen Madion, she said – the group has rallied around the park and its aging infrastructure to plan the overhaul.
Project partners hope to break ground on the $4.1 million project to build a new ski lodge, parking lot and maintenance building this spring, along with other improvements.
Traverse City leaders previously promised $1.5 million in Brown Bridge Parks Improvement Trust Fund money, and the state has granted $275,000 toward the project. Preserve Hickory raised $2 million through private donations.
Other plans include adding ski slopes, ski lifts and cross country trails, Larrea said – the special use permit focuses on the buildings and parking lots.
Meager snowfall at most western ski resorts during January has led to a drop in bookings for the remainder of the ski season, as lodging properties maintain a tenuous hold on revenues.
The downturn was reported last week by Inntopia in its monthly DestiMetrics* Market Briefing to participating lodging and marketing organizations.
As of Jan. 31, occupancy for January was down 4.4% while Average Daily Rate climbed 7.3% compared to January 2016. Despite the drop in occupancy, the increased rates permitted a 2.6% increase in aggregated revenues in a year-over-year comparison to last January.
Bookings made in January for arrivals from January through June are down 15.4% with the biggest decline coming in bookings for January arrivals – plunging 24% compared to bookings made last January for arrivals in that month.
The downward shift is also pushing into the remainder of the season. Occupancy for November through April is down 3.3% with decreases in four of the six months. As of Jan. 31, only the shoulder months of November and April were up for the winter season. However, ADR is up 4% compared to last winter enabling revenues, despite the lower occupancy, to eke out a 0.5% increase in revenues for the season.
As snow has started arriving at some western destinations, economic indicators reveal continued strength despite recent rapid mercurial shifts on Wall Street.
The Briefing emphasized several key points as mountain destinations focus on the second half of the ski season. Notably, ADR gains are smaller than they were 30 days ago but they are still holding at a level slightly above last year. However, aggregated revenues are moving down more quickly as occupancy and ADR continue to slip.
“There is both opportunity and challenge for the remainder of the season for destinations as they work to attract regional visitors who operate on a shorter booking schedule, respond to snowfall and slope conditions more immediately, and are more competitive to capture,” said Tom Foley, vice president of Business Intelligence for Inntopia.
What we do know is that weather and economic indicators both still have the chance to influence the outcome of the ski season,” he concluded.
The outdoor recreation economy is officially a big deal, according to published reports. Last week, the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis released numbers detailing the economic power of the outdoor recreation industry, showing it comprises 2% ($373.7 billion) of the entire 2016 U.S. Gross Domestic Product.
It’s an impressive figure that puts it on the scale of industries like construction (4.3%); legal services (1.3%); agriculture, including farming, forestry, and fishing (1%); and, most significantly, mining, oil, and gas extraction (1.4%). The report also stipulates that the outdoor industry is growing by 3.8%, a faster rate than the overall economy (2.8%).
The BEA report was two years in the making, initiated when President Obama signed the Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act. Signed in 2016, it directed the federal agency to measure the outdoor economy with the same tools it uses to chart other industries and the economy as a whole.
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A search that included at least six government agencies, two ski patrols and several local volunteers and lasted 6 days concluded last week when Constantinos “Danny” Filippidis was found in California after going missing at Whiteface Mountain, NY, according to published reports.
And there are still more questions than answers.
After Filippidis was reported missing, more than 135 people spent a combined 7,000 hours on the rugged mountain in varying winter weather conditions. Helicopters and search dogs were also called in to assist. State Police did not yet have an estimate on how much money the massive search cost the state.
Filippidis had been last seen at the Whiteface Mountain ski resort’s mid-station about 2:30 p.m. Feb. 7. Six days later, police in Sacramento found Filippidis still wearing the ski clothing he had on when he disappeared, including his helmet and googles. Filippidis was given medical attention and taken to a local hospital.
He received medical treatment in Sacramento and was considered to be in good health.
New York State Police said Wednesday Filippidis was on his way back to Lake Placid where he agreed to speak with investigators.
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, WY, reported that a skier was fatally injured in the Rock Spring Backcountry located south of JHMR. The accident was the result of a skier-triggered avalanche. At the time of the slide, avalanche conditions were considerable.
The Salt Lake Tribune reported that the victim was Alexander Marra, 30, from Orem, UT. It’s the first time this season someone has died from an avalanche in the resort or on terrain accessed from the resort.
The Winter Olympics in South Korea hasn’t resulted in a huge medal haul for the U.S., but it has certainly provided some spectacular moments. Shaun White and Chloe Kim put on gasp-worthy performances in snowboard halfpipe, winning gold in the men’s and women’s event, respectively, Jamie Anderson proved her mental toughness by winning gold in snowboard slopestyle, which was held in difficult conditions. The wind wreaked havoc with the schedule for alpine events. Mikaela Shiffren won the GS, but with the slalom – her best event – the next day, she was unable to podium in that event, finishing fourth. She owns a gold in slalom from the Sochi Olympics four years ago.
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