Ski season has its ups and downs |

Ski season has its ups and downs

Sara Thompson and Nick Cruit

Between great powder days and the economic downturn, business at South Shore ski resorts was up and down throughout the season.

Sierra-at-Tahoe spokeswoman Kirstin Cattell said many skiers and snowboarders were pickier about their ski days than in years past, only wanting to spend money on a lift ticket when conditions were good.

“A lot of people were trying us for the first time because they were shopping around,” Cattell said.

The resorts could not release numbers on their entire seasons, but provided anecdotal information.

January was a slow month, but business always picked up after the snow fell, Cattell said.

Cattell said that Sierra’s three-pack lift tickets were in the price range customers were looking for, because tickets were $49 per day if purchased as a package.

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The resort’s closing day is April 20, and that will be customer appreciation day, Cattell said. Lift tickets will be $20 and all the proceeds will be donated to community sports programs.

Sierra opened with a free half-day of skiing this season, too, Cattell said.

At Kirkwood Mountain Resort, business was good all season, but now it’s slowing down because of the spring weather, Kirkwood spokeswoman Julie Koster said.

“We were lucky to get some awesome snow days, but also not receive that rain other resorts did,” Koster said.

Koster said many new visitors checked out Kirkwood this year, and the resort has a spring pass for $99.

Heavenly enjoyed the influx of skiers during peak snow conditions.

“We had good snow at really good times, and we put out a really good product this year,” Heavenly spokesman Russ Pecoraro said.

Vail announced earlier this season that skier visits to Heavenly Mountain Resort during the quarter ended Jan. 31 were down about 10 percent from the previous year, according to the Northern Nevada Business Weekly.

Heavenly is selling its 2009-10 season pass for $329, and the last day of the season will be April 19, Pecoraro said.

On the North Shore, ski resorts also had up-and-down business. And when snow coincided with holiday weekends, the result was much-needed skier visits.

“We had a late start due to the delay in natural snowfall, however, the resort experienced a record-breaking holiday season between Christmas and New Year’s,” said Northstar-at-Tahoe marketing coordinator Jessica Van Pernis.

Likewise, Diamond Peak Ski Resort recorded two of its best holiday ski days between Christmas and New Year’s. On Dec. 26, Diamond Peak recorded the most skier visits for that day in more than 10 years, and on Dec. 31, the resort set a New Year’s Eve revenue record.

But because of the waning economy and the sporadic snow throughout the winter, most resort officials said business was down this year compared to last.

“Skier visits were below projection for the season, but that was driven more by the timing of snow and weather,” Savannah Cowley, Squaw Valley USA spokeswoman said in an e-mail.

Season passes for next year are selling well, Cowley said. The 2009-10 passes range from $369 to $469 for slightly restricted black out dates, and $949 for a full season pass. The closing date for the resort is May 10, she added.

“It’s not the worst season we’ve ever had but it wasn’t the best we’ve ever had either,” said Kayla Anderson, marketing coordinator for Diamond Peak.

“It was a challenging year, interesting to say the least,” said Sugar Bowl Ski Resort’s marketing director John Monson.

And before the season even comes to an end, the economy is already a factor for next year as resorts roll out discounted season passes with enticingly low prices.

Two of the most aggressive deals come from neighbor resorts Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley USA, whose unrestricted season pass prices are currently cut in half ” $649 at Alpine and $949 at Squaw.

“This is the most dramatic price change I’ve seen since I’ve been working here,” said Ivan McGurk, Squaw’s ticket manager, on the first morning Squaw’s season passes went on sale. “I’ve seen an overall positive response, people are psyched to see prices like this.”

Elsewhere, Northstar’s unrestricted season passes are on sale for $649, Diamond Peak’s are going for $454, and Sugar Bowl’s are selling for $799.