With spring firmly planted, South Lake Tahoe’s many seasonal shops, restaurants and businesses are starting to tally their numbers from last winter. And, for many, that’s not a happy task.
“It was a bad year to quit drinking,” joked Bob Daly, owner of Shoreline of Tahoe, a ski and board shop. “I’ve kept sharp objects away from my wrists.”
The season’s lack of snow – and lack of visitors – took a toll on many businesses, which are now looking for a busy summer to catch up. The winter was so tough on some owners, they’ve decided to look to pursue more stable options rather than undergo another roller coaster ride of seasonal swings.
“We just can’t roll the dice any more,” said Max Jones, who operates the Spooner Lake Cross Country Ski Area. After 27 years, Jones will not sign another five-year contract with the U.S. Forest Service to continue the ski area.
Spooner Lake Cross Country was only able to open about 40 days this winter and, because of the conditions, it only had 30 percent to 40 percent of its average skier visits, Jones said.
Even the South Shore’s biggest businesses suffered from the weak winter. Vail announced Tuesday that combined skier visits to Heavenly Mountain Resort and Northstar California were down 24 percent from the previous year, according to a statement released Tuesday. Though Vail was able to increase its ancillary revenue through offerings like dining, ski lessons, retail and rentals, CEO Rob Katz noted how tough the past season was.
“This was one of the most challenging weather seasons in the history of the United States ski industry, marked by historically low snowfall and one of the mildest winters on record,” Katz said in a statement.
At Shoreline, the newest skateboard and bike equipment decorated the shelves Tuesday, grabbing customers looking for some summer fun, while racks full of ski and snowboard gear are marked down for quick sale.
The shop had an especially tough season because, after the heavy and busy 2010-11 winter, it increased its orders for last season. The numbers aren’t turning out quite as bad as Daly imagined, he said. Debts are getting paid and Daly has cautious hopes for good summer sales.
“That’s the hope,” he said. “I’m not sure it will manifest into reality, but you’ve got to be optimistic.”
So far, advanced bookings for lodging are looking up, said Carol Chaplin, executive director of the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority.
“Our conversations with our lodging partners is that advanced bookings are really strong,” Chaplin said. “They’re all optimistic about the summertime.”
A number of factors that contribute to tourism are looking positive, including the event lineup, the decreases in the price of gas and the improvement of the economy overall, Chaplin said.
“I think there is some pent-up demand,” Chaplin said. “If folks can hang on, I think we’re going to do better.”
As for Jones, he plans on running the bike shop at Spooner Lake for the summer and opening a cafe in Incline Village. The light snow year should make for good riding this spring and summer, he said.
“I know we’ve been getting calls from people asking when we’ll be open for a while now,” Jones said.