Lake Tahoe ski resorts offering flurry of deals
November 26, 2009
As the economy thaws, Tahoe ski areas are offering a flurry of deals to lure people to the slopes this season.
In one of the most dramatic moves, Squaw Valley USA dropped season pass prices by roughly $1,000, the first time the exclusive resort has offered a value pass deal. This year from March 20 through May 11 Squaw Valley offered passes for as low as $369 as part of the resort’s celebration of its 60th anniversary year and 50th anniversary of hosting the winter Olympics. The last time Squaw Valley passes were priced so low was in 1980.
“Now more than ever, incredible deals are out there,” said Troy Hawks, spokesman of the National Ski Areas Association, headquartered in Lakewood, Colo. Ski area visits nationwide totaled 53.4 million last season, down 5 percent from the 2007-2008 season, but still the fourth largest season, in terms of visitors, on record, according to a National Ski Areas Association report. Ski areas in the southern part of the country fared better than in northern areas. The Tahoe region saw a 10 percent decline in visitors, versus a 1 percent decline among ski areas in Southern California, Arizona and southern Nevada, the report said.
With budget-minded skiers staying closer to home, smaller, day-oriented areas close to major markets actually benefited from the down economy, some reporting record numbers of visits, Hawks said. Overnight drive markets did better than overnight fly markets, and destination resorts reported fewer overnight visits and shorter stays. Ski areas of all types reported ancillary revenues, such as ski school, food and beverage proceeds, were down last season, according to the association. Still, ski resorts across the country are weathering the economic storminess fairly well, Hawks said, in part because of the sheer passion of skiers, who consider the sport part of their basic lifestyles.
“In my experience I’ve seen that snow trumps economy woes,” said Kayla Anderson, spokeswoman for Mt. Rose-Ski Tahoe. “When there’s a big snowstorm, people make it happen to come up here to go skiing. Also, I think that people are taking more ‘staycations,’ coming to Lake Tahoe instead of flying out to Colorado for their annual trips.”
Daily ticket sales were down last season at Mt. Rose, but season pass sales were up. This year Mt. Rose pass sales peaked Sept. 30, the last day of the sale and the day after the first snowfall, Anderson said.
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Northstar-at-Tahoe Resort spokeswoman Jessica VanPernis said lodging bookings for this winter are slightly above last season, and pass sales are on track with last year at this time.
“Last year when the snow flew, people still came skiing, despite the economy, she said. “We saw a lot of close-in booking and visits from those in our drive market – Reno, Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area. The hope for this year is we’ll have a great snow year with the El Nino season that forecasters are calling for.”
Cutting season pass prices was a sharp turn for Squaw Valley, which for many years had one of the priciest season passes in the country. Last year, a season pass cost $1,499 before July 15 and $1,899 thereafter. When surveyed, some season pass holders said they wanted the resort to maintain the higher prices to preserve the area’s exclusivity. But that model was no longer viable, particularly in a recession.
“Tahoe has the highest concentration of ski areas in the country, and maybe even the world. That means there’s a lot of competition,” Squaw Valley USA spokeswoman Savannah Cowley said. “We realized with the economy and the impending 50th and 60th anniversaries, it was the perfect time to test a value pass.”
The resort broke online sales records when the value pass – with three price points ranging from $369 to $949 – went on sale March 20, although Cowley would not disclose numbers. Squaw Valley’s IT staff worked through the night to handle the huge amount of online traffic and created an online fulfillment system so skiers could upload photos and print their own passes at home to prevent long lines for pass pickup on opening day.
Greater sales volume will mean more skiers on the slopes and higher revenues for concessions, the ski school and rentals. It also will mean more potential customers for north Lake Tahoe area restaurants and stores, a notion not lost on local business owners, many of whom have thanked the resort for introducing the value deal, Cowley said.
Even with the increased number of pass sales, Cowley said, Squaw Valley doesn’t expect a crowding problem. The lift system can transport 49,000 skiers up the mountain in an hour, far more visitors than the resort expects to draw in one day, and passes were priced to prevent crowding on busy days. The least expensive pass, for instance, isn’t good on holidays throughout the season or on Saturdays in January and February.
– Tribune reporter Annie Flanzraich contributed to this report.
• Heavenly Mountain Resort is offering a season pass for $369, about $10 cheaper than last year’s pass. They also instituted a refer a friend program this season. If a season pass holder refers a someone to the mountain and that person buys a season pass, the season pass holder will receive $20 in mountain bucks and the person purchasing the pass will receive $20 off.
• Sierra-at-Tahoe is offering a $35 learn to ski or ride package that includes a limited lift ticket, all day rental and 2.5-hour first-timer lesson for adults older than 13. The package went for $90 last year. The mountain also offers a 3-pack of lift tickets that are good any day during the season for $135 if purchased before Jan. 1 online at http://www.sierraattahoe.com.
• Kirkwood is offering a $74 lift ticket and season passes ranging from $289 to $599. They also offer a two-pack of adult lift tickets at Costco for $115.
• Mt. Rose-Ski Tahoe opened its $333 season pass deal, previously available only to former pass holders, to everyone, and eliminated blackout days for pass holders.
• Northstar-At-Tahoe Resort expanded its beginner learning area and introduced new lesson deals, such as a $99 package that includes a 2.5-hour lesson, all-day lift ticket and rental equipment. An adult lift ticket and rental combo without a lesson ordinarily costs $114.
• Alpine Meadows and Homewood Mountain Resorts, both owned by JMA Ventures in San Francisco, are offering a new $299 college season pass good at both resorts except on holidays.
• Diamond Peak Ski Resort is offering a new holiday pass for $249, which is good for 28 days, including the Christmas holiday season and Martin Luther King and President’s Day weekends.