Tahoe resorts happy with ski season, despite pandemic, staffing shortages
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — The snow came early, then didn’t come at all for many days.
But even though fresh snow has been limited and staffing has been a challenge amid the pandemic, Lake Tahoe ski resorts have returned to normal and are happy with the season.
“It has been a really good season,” said Vail Resorts’ West Region Director of Communications Sarah Roston.
That’s a sentiment shared by other resorts in the area.
Of course, the ski season isn’t over yet, but now that temperatures are warming and President’s Day weekend has passed, it’s moving into prime spring skiing.
“It was great to start the season off with that huge holiday storm cycle that dropped 14-plus feet of snow on the resort and allowed us to open up with 100% of our terrain available to ski/ride,” said Paul Raymore, marketing and sales manager for Diamond Peak.
The huge December storm provided a great base for the mountains, so coverage stayed strong, despite no storms in January.
“The snow has held up really well despite the lack of snow we recently experienced, though we were happy to have some new snowfall come through recently, of course,” Roston said.
Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe also enjoyed the early storm. A challenge to the mountain can be road closures and wind holds, so the dry January actually made for some good conditions.
“Strong December storms followed by clear sunny days have proven ideal for good skier traffic this season. Clear roads are keeping the drive market visits steady,” said Marketing Manager Mike Pierce.
Still, the few February storms definitely didn’t hurt the resorts.
“Mt. Rose has had a very strong year with a record February. President’s weekend and San Jose Schools out the following week showed elevated business,” Pierce said. “In addition a blast of cold snow made for outstanding business as locals were drawn back to the slopes with a vengeance.”
Mt. Rose, Diamond Peak, Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood all reported good ridership numbers.
“We’ve seen ridership numbers that are fairly consistent with what we saw during the pandemic – but last season was a good year in terms of visitation, so we’re not upset about that,” Raymore said. “With schools back in session, we’ve seen a transition back to more typical visitation patterns – busier weekends and holidays with much smaller numbers midweek. Last season with schools operating remotely and a lot of workers working remotely, we saw an uptick in midweek business compared to “normal.” This year we’re somewhere in between.”
Vail isn’t able to give exact numbers for overall, for the western and Australian resorts, ridership was down 1.7% compared to 2021 but lift ticket revenue was up 25.9%. While these numbers reflect more than just the Tahoe resorts, Roston said she was happy with how the Tahoe resorts did this season.
“Overall, we’re really pleased with how this season has gone – we’ve focused on providing a great guest experience, navigated challenges as a team (at all three resorts), and are looking forward to finishing the season strong, with some really excellent spring skiing/riding in the mix,” Roston said.
Still, the resorts did face some challenges. December brought not only a record amount of snow but also the beginning of an intense COVID-19 Omicron variant surge.
“We were impacted by the new Omicron variant some in Tahoe, but all three resorts have really navigated quite skillfully – again, all the credit goes to the hard work and resilience of our team members across the board. They really are the difference makers,” Roston said, adding that as employees were out with the virus, other employees changed hats to keep the resort moving.
Heavenly General Manager Tom Fortune announced on Friday that the resort hired a senior manager of health and safety.
“He’s part of a team that’s critically important to keeping all of you – and our employees – safe and healthy,” Fortune said in a blog post.
Staffing shortages, in general, impacted the resorts. Roston said the shuttle service was hurting the most from staffing shortages and Pierce said the Winters Creek Lodge has not been able to have regular food service this season.
“One of the biggest challenges that all Tahoe ski resorts have faced this season is staffing, and Diamond Peak wasn’t immune to that issue. With the cost of living increasing rapidly this past year (both nationally and within the Basin), it’s harder and harder for employees to find local housing, which is always a challenge,” Raymore said. “And with other regional employers raising wages to attract talent, the entire ski industry was forced to compete even more than normal for great employees.”
“That being said, we still managed to hire an incredible crew this year, and we’ve worked hard to continue to offer the experience that our residents and guests have come to expect at Diamond Peak,” Raymore added.
The resorts are now gearing up for Spring.
“We’re now coasting into spring, which is one of my favorite parts of the season at Heavenly, and we are looking forward to finishing the season strong. We have a great base, and with the sunshine comes more live music and the DJ cat out on the mountain. As of today, we are fully staffed to operate the lifts and terrain as planned – things can change, but we feel great about where we’re at,” Fortune said in his blog post.
With a storm on the forecast this weekend, Tahoe resorts could get an extra boost.
“Obviously, powder seekers would like to see more snow. And we’re hoping for a Miracle March to come in and freshen up the slopes and make the off-piste areas skiable again. It’s happened many times in the past, so hopefully 2022 will be another of those years,” Raymore said.
“Overall, it’s been a great season,” Raymore added. “People still appreciate the opportunity to recreate outdoors in the fresh mountain air, and they’re still stoked to support a community-owned resort here in the Tahoe Basin.”
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