Financial Viability of Late Spring Skiing

As great as this spring has been, are there any places that are open or extended their season that are getting crowds adequate to be profitable? I haven't seen them. (Exclude from your comments places such as Killington, Jay Peak, Sugarbush, Wildcat, Sunday River and Sugarloaf for whom the late-season product is part of their business model.)

Note: I was invited to join FB's "Ski the East Group" page.  I did.  I tried this question there and got nothing but irrelevant (and in some cases, stupid) comments.  I won't waste my time posting there again!
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  • As great as this spring has been, are there any places that are open or extended their season that are getting crowds adequate to be profitable? I haven't seen them. (Exclude from your comments places such as Killington, Jay Peak, Sugarbush, Wildcat, Sunday River and Sugarloaf for whom the late-season product is part of their business model.)


    Note: I was invited to join FB's "Ski the East Group" page.  I did.  I tried this question there and got nothing but irrelevant (and in some cases, stupid) comments.  I won't waste my time posting there again!
    Worth getting input from folks who run the areas, if possible. I am sure none would speak on record. FWIW, I have heard that ski areas lose money every day after Feb break. Spring is to give value to passholders and for marketing; how you measure that I have no idea. I do know that local TV stations here have run several stories in the past couple of weeks noting what areas are still open and how good it is. That has to be worth something. This weekend will be telling: warmer temps, sun and fantastic snow for the last half of April. If they come out, I am sure places will make money at least for those two days (beer and food, some day tix, though deep discounts).
  • edited April 19
    I don't think this question can by answered while excluding places "such as Killington, Jay Peak, Sugarbush, Wildcat, Sunday River and Sugarloaf for whom the late-season product is part of their business model."  Any place that decides to extend their season is doing it as part of a business model/decision to draw and keep customers so that they return next season.  It's true for any business.  Sometimes you have to offer your product at a loss just to prevent your customers from going somewhere else and possibly not coming back.  

    Here's a non-skiing example.  When I had my oyster business we harvested and sold oysters throughout the entire winter whereas most of our competitors would shut down throughout the winter.  What we achieved is that we picked up many of our competitor's restaurant and wholesale customers who were looking for oysters in the winter.  Come springtime these customers stayed with us instead of going back to their previous suppliers. More and more oyster farmers are now going to some level of winter harvest in order to keep their customers happy....and therefore keep their customers.

    Ski areas extending their season may just be trying to prevent an existing customer from going over to one of the places Joshua listed and saying to themselves "Gee, maybe I'll just get a pass here next year instead" 
  • I don't think this question can by answered while excluding places "such as Killington, Jay Peak, Sugarbush, Wildcat, Sunday River and Sugarloaf for whom the late-season product is part of their business model."  Any place that decides to extend their season is doing it as part of a business model/decision to draw and keep customers so that they return next season.  It's true for any business.  Sometimes you have to offer your product at a loss just to prevent your customers from going somewhere else and possibly not coming back.  


    Here's a non-skiing example.  When I had my oyster business we harvested and sold oysters throughout the entire winter whereas most of our competitors would shut down throughout the winter.  What we achieved is that we picked up many of our competitors restaurant and wholesale customers who were looking for oysters in the winter.  Come springtime these customers stayed with us instead of going back to their previous suppliers. More and more oyster farmers are now going to some level of winter harvest in order to keep their customers happy. 

    Ski areas extending their season may just be trying to prevent an existing customer from going over to one of the places Joshua listed and saying to themselves "Gee, maybe I'll just get a pass here next year instead" 
    Well said. Also an opportunity to show what summer activities they will be offering, as well as, at least at the big places that are essentially attractions meant to sell real estate, show their housing options.

  • edited April 19
    I think it also depends on the business model of the ski area. Places like Plattekill have low overhead. Platty probably could run on a day without huge crowds with about 10-12 employees. If you consider that a few of those are already full time employees,(they're getting paid whether the ski area is open or not) they only need to pay around a 1/2 dozen part time employees to open, it doesn't cost too much. Just add in the electricity to run the lifts and that's about it. However, I do believe that a good number of skiers that show up late season are already season pass holders, some of the payback the ski area would receive comes in the form of goodwill to their passholders which how others have mentioned here will help keep those skiers coming back year after year as well as marketing...so they can say they have a long(er) season.
  • As great as this spring has been, are there any places that are open or extended their season that are getting crowds adequate to be profitable? I haven't seen them. (Exclude from your comments places such as Killington, Jay Peak, Sugarbush, Wildcat, Sunday River and Sugarloaf for whom the late-season product is part of their business model.)

    I agree with Cannonball that excluding areas that go late while talking about the financial viability of late season skiing eliminates the most relevant discussion points about why areas even bother going as late as they do.

    I would contend that this spring has not been great, it has been abysmal. Cold and cloudy with rain and wintery mixes. Too cold for good spring skiing, too warm to retain mid-winter packed powder. This coming Sunday is shaping up to be the first great spring bump skiing day of the season, finally, when most areas have already closed.

    Just like the winter, I think spring financial success probably has a lot to do with the weather. Spring is very hit or miss. Rain freeze events are common and spring corn days can be as tough to come by as powder days during the winter. No one enjoys skiing on frozen granular.

    I know mid-week pass holders don't like this thought, but I wish areas would shut down mid-week operations and go weekends only sooner and extend weekend only operations later. That would eliminate the worst financial operations and allow areas to focus on the most profitable days. 

    But the other issue is labor. Once areas go mid-week only, seasonal employees will start to shift gears into spring/summer/fall positions. If a business can't put enough hours on the table, it will lose their employees. I am sure that is a tough balancing act. Having a firm closing date is probably helpful for labor relations, ensuring employees stay to the end. I suspect once most areas go weekends only, there aren't many seasonal employees left and areas may need to rely on full timers that might not normally be bumping chairs or doing other operational duties.

    For revenue, many passholders will still eat and drink, but it all depends on the weather being good enough for people to show up. Good will is nice but at how much of a cost? If all areas shut down on the same weekend (like last weekend), then areas are not giving up competitive advantage to other pass options. So areas may all gravitate towards the same closing dates in unspoken agreement on when it is time to pull the plug.

    The more areas that are open, the more spread out a limited pot of revenue becomes. I think lots of areas closing early and a few going late is a good setup for late season skiers. The more ski areas that go late, the less financially successful late season operations will be for all areas. Though, ultimately, given the weather variability, I suspect late season operations is all about buzz, marketing, and pass sales for next season. Some areas see value in that, others do not.
  • I was thinking about issue when Stratton decided to go an extra weekend beyond their normalclosing date of April 8 . It turned out to be a lousy weekend, cold, damp and with high winds on Sunday, limiting lift ops to lower mtn.
    As a passholder, I appreciated the extra weekend but decided not to go due to weather. Im sure no money was made and now maybe Stratton would not extend the season again in the future because of how it turned out .
  • I like the way rivercOil summed it up. Another cost to re open is grooming. Im sure areas have their own reasons to stay open or shut down. Some for reasons mentioned, some for others. No matter what it is still to turn profit in some form. George from Bouquet would say once Presidents Week is over, who cares.
  • Many areas that shoot to stay open in the spring also offer next years pass at the early purchase discount, and make next years pass good for the current spring, maybe trying to get early cash flow from existing pass holders, but also trying to woo new pass holders?
  • Interesting set of replies to date:

    lotsoskiing said, "Worth getting input from folks who run the areas, if possible. I am sure none would speak on record..."  I think we have at least 3 (possibly more) SJers who are in that category and I was hoping for aa reply from one of them. 

    cannonball and riverc0il agree that I can't leave out Killington, Jay Peak, Sugarbush, Wildcat, Sunday River and Sugarloaf from the analysis.  But the reason I leave them out is that they are not extending their season: that is part of their season. (And I was told by a Killington executive that the way they do their accounting, Killington is profitable until mid-May.)

    teighs suggested the "even if they lose money" argument for showcasing next year's season pass and summer offerings makes sense, but if so, why don't more areas do it?

    cannonball said, "Ski areas extending their season may just be trying to prevent an existing customer from going over to one of the places Joshua listed and saying to themselves "Gee, maybe I'll just get a pass here next year instead." Good point, but those who want that late season product aren't going to be swayed by the fact their home area decided to extend their season by a week or two.

    marcski makes a great point about areas being able to scale operations.  While his example works with Plattekill, it also works for Killington.  As crowds drop off, they drop to one (or two) lifts and from 6 base areas to one.

    riverc0il says, "I would contend that this spring has not been great, it has been abysmal." I found the six weeked between Mar. 6 and mid-April to have been the best skiing of the season - although it sure hasn't been spring conditions.

    riverc0il says, "I know mid-week pass holders don't like this thought, but I wish areas would shut down mid-week operations and go weekends only sooner and extend weekend only operations later."  Some of the choice is dictated by labor-laws in various states, but when Saddleback Foundation was crunching numbers, weekday ops ran pretty much break-even.  Killington shuts down on weekdays in May (I am told) to preserve snowpack.  Grooming really cuts into the snowpack.

  • cannonball said, "Ski areas extending their season may just be trying to prevent an existing customer from going over to one of the places Joshua listed and saying to themselves "Gee, maybe I'll just get a pass here next year instead." Good point, but those who want that late season product aren't going to be swayed by the fact their home area decided to extend their season by a week or two.


    I disagree with this. Cannon closed with a ton of snow.  Wildcat is still open. Every year I consider getting a Peaks Pass instead of a Cannon Pass.  Late season offerings by Wildcat is the #1 reason why I consider this.  If Cannon (my home Mtn) would decide to extend their season by a week or two I would completely stop considering a Peaks Pass. 
  • Yeah but lately it seems to me that Wildcat once they are last open in the state doesn’t push the point. We’ll see how it goes this year.
    ISNE-I Skied New England | NESAP-the New England Ski Area Project | SOSA-Saving Our Ski Areas - Location SW of Boston MA

  • cannonball said, "Ski areas extending their season may just be trying to prevent an existing customer from going over to one of the places Joshua listed and saying to themselves "Gee, maybe I'll just get a pass here next year instead." Good point, but those who want that late season product aren't going to be swayed by the fact their home area decided to extend their season by a week or two.


    I disagree with this. Cannon closed with a ton of snow.  Wildcat is still open. Every year I consider getting a Peaks Pass instead of a Cannon Pass.  Late season offerings by Wildcat is the #1 reason why I consider this.  If Cannon (my home Mtn) would decide to extend their season by a week or two I would completely stop considering a Peaks Pass. 


    I agree with the disagreement.  There's been a couple years I skipped buying a Mount Snow pass.  They had been opening later and closing earlier at that time.  I was also taking a lot of trips out west.  With the shoulder seasons being shorter, it made more sense for me to just buy day tickets with whatever discount that was available.  Even though I have a house in Wilmington, a lot of those tickets ended up being at places other than Mount Snow.  It worked out well enough for me the first year that I continued for a few more years.  Ended up buying a pass again when they lowered the price (and they seem to be back to longer shoulder seasons too).

    I found it interesting to see so many day tickets at Big Boulder last weekend.  Good size crowd too.  If I was a PA park rat (which pretty much almost everybody there seemed to be) I would surely buy a Big Boulder pass with their extended season.  Also interesting was the almost complete lack of pre-teens and younger kids that day.  Including my 2 I would guess there were around 10 total.
  • edited April 19

    Joshua quoted cannonball:
     "Ski areas extending their season may just be trying to prevent an existing customer from going over to one of the places Joshua listed and saying to themselves "Gee, maybe I'll just get a pass here next year instead." Joshua added: Good point, but those who want that late season product aren't going to be swayed by the fact their home area decided to extend their season by a week or two.

    Cannonball replied:
    I disagree with this. Cannon closed with a ton of snow.  Wildcat is still open. Every year I consider getting a Peaks Pass instead of a Cannon Pass.  Late season offerings by Wildcat is the #1 reason why I consider this.  If Cannon (my home Mtn) would decide to extend their season by a week or two I would completely stop considering a Peaks Pass. 
    Joshua Commented: If I read what you said correctly, we agree:  My understanding of what you wrote is as follows: If Cannon planned for an Apr. 22 closing, you wouldn't consider a Peak Pass; However, because they consider it a season-to-season possible add-on, you do consider a Peak Pass. 
  • edited April 19
    I can only speak for us (WB). Many years we close with near 100% terrain open due to lack of traffic. Not just day traffic, any traffic, including pass holders. It is a fine line between staying open losing money and continuing to provide a product for prepaid customers (pass holders). I think most folks would be shocked if they saw how much it costs to operate a ski area, even with bare bones staff and reduced services.

    This year was a little different because of the weak February, people seemed to hang on to skiing and riding later into the year than usual. We saw many first time customers from out of the area late into March which was great. We also struggled in mid-January with both snow making (due to a line freeze) and lighting issues and felt we had to make things right. We wanted to show a renewed commitment to customer service by staying open as long as the snow and numbers worked. Things made sense for us to stay open until 4/1 (latest since '72). We hope this left a good feeling for our customers who will then not think twice about coming back next year.

    In summary I think if asked every ski area will give you a different answer on if it makes sense for spring skiing or not.

    My $.02 from a small mountain perspective.

  • Joshua quoted cannonball:
     "Ski areas extending their season may just be trying to prevent an existing customer from going over to one of the places Joshua listed and saying to themselves "Gee, maybe I'll just get a pass here next year instead." Joshua added: Good point, but those who want that late season product aren't going to be swayed by the fact their home area decided to extend their season by a week or two.

    Cannonball replied:
    I disagree with this. Cannon closed with a ton of snow.  Wildcat is still open. Every year I consider getting a Peaks Pass instead of a Cannon Pass.  Late season offerings by Wildcat is the #1 reason why I consider this.  If Cannon (my home Mtn) would decide to extend their season by a week or two I would completely stop considering a Peaks Pass. 
    Joshua Commented: If I read what you said correctly, we agree:  My understanding of what you wrote is as follows: If Cannon planned for an Apr. 22 closing, you wouldn't consider a Peak Pass; However, because they consider it a season-to-season possible add-on, you do consider a Peak Pass. 

    No, that's not what I meant.  Cannon has a pretty hard close date.  They very occasionally add one week but never more.  So I know for a fact that they will never try or even consider continuing to operate as long as possible (the way Wildcat does).  That's what makes me consider a Peaks Pass. If I had any hope every year that my home mountain would add days to suit the spring conditions, then I wouldn't be drawn away to other mountains come spring. 
  • riverc0il says, "I would contend that this spring has not been great, it has been abysmal." I found the six weeked between Mar. 6 and mid-April to have been the best skiing of the season - although it sure hasn't been spring conditions.
    I didn't count mid-March as spring skiing since it was full on winter. The beginning of spring skiing for me was to be after the mid-March storm. I guess my view on when spring skiing begins varies year to year. We've had March blow torches before. I kinda use when the thaw begins at most areas as the start of spring skiing.
  • The Slutsky's used to operate Hunter thru April into May with 20 - 25 employees (and frequently just the A lift).
  • Places that can operate a good amount of their mountain (or at least a good pod) by running only 1 lift and operating out of 1 lodge have a distinct advantage at operating late season with either minimal daily losses or maybe even a small daily profit if the weather cooperates....

    I've heard some Mount Snow admins say that late season, if they only ran Carinthia, they'd operate at a profit for the day if the weather was semi decent. They basically operate the Main mountain and Northface as a benefit for mainly passholders....

    Kind of like I'm sure Killington is "happy" when it comes down to daily revenue when it's just down to the Superstar lift and K-1 lodge.

    Also I'm sure if a late season ski area player was 100% candid, they'd say that they'd only spin lifts after say the 1st weekend of April, if it was going to either be a nice Spring day, or a powder day.... Anything else, I'm sure they'd rather not take the financial hit for those days....
  • In the lower peninsula of Michigan only Boyne is open on weekends right now. I think one reason why they are open is they have a big indoor water park that is open. So they have a food staff and a lodging staff already working, so to spin a lift or two may not be that much extra.  
  • riverc0il says, "I would contend that this spring has not been great, it has been abysmal." I found the six weeked between Mar. 6 and mid-April to have been the best skiing of the season - although it sure hasn't been spring conditions.
    I didn't count mid-March as spring skiing since it was full on winter. The beginning of spring skiing for me was to be after the mid-March storm. I guess my view on when spring skiing begins varies year to year. We've had March blow torches before. I kinda use when the thaw begins at most areas as the start of spring skiing.
    This year, that date was Jan. 10 :-(

  • edited April 20
    Lots of great inputs.  Thanks.  This is my list of what it takes to make for profitable spring skiing product:
    1. Location: In the modern world, it’s easy to notify your regulars and season pass holders via Facebook, Twitter, email, etc. – and it’s free!  If it’s going to be a bluebird spring day, people come out.  Any spring skiing regular will confirm that s/he stood in long lift lines in April.  If the area doesn’t want to open the kitchen, there are many mobile food vendors who could be invited to set up in the parking lot with the area negotiating a percentage of the take.
    2. Ability to scale operations to one lodge, one lift and minimal grooming cost
    3. Season Passes: Make Season passes valid from March 15 to April 1 of the following year.  If you want to ski in April or May of this season, you need next year’s season’s pass!
    4. Free Education: Every sport is pushing the boundaries of their season.  The prevailing wisdom is that people burn out on skiing.  In basketball, March Madness runs into April; NHL hockey continues to June, Baseball goes to November and Football finishes in February.  Skiing should also be able to pursue a longer season with success. There are a few minor changes to the skill mix for skiing spring snow.  Educate the consumer on how to enjoy it. 
    a. What trails are best when.  Early AM: groomers; as temperatures warm, the ungroomed becomes better.  It might be useful to have a courtesy patrol out posting signs for what (and where) the skiing is best.
    b. Post a few instructors to provide tips.  The modern ski is much easier to carve and the essence of spring skiing is carving.
    c. Many sophisticated skiers see a bare spot on the slopes in April, hear of a rain storm and assume that the skiing is done.  This just isn’t the way the spring melt out works and a little education goes a long way.
    5. Ability to maintain a skeleton staff of employees willing to work on-call for late season

    Comments?
  • The real reason is to sell season passes for next season,
    period! By mid-April, no resort owes any pass holder anything. I would guess
    outside the normal late season players, the reason others stayed open was to
    try to gain back some lost revenue from earlier in the season. 

  • Lots of great inputs.  Thanks.  This is my list of what it takes to make for profitable spring skiing product:
    1. Location: In the modern world, it’s easy to notify your regulars and season pass holders via Facebook, Twitter, email, etc. – and it’s free!  If it’s going to be a bluebird spring day, people come out.  Any spring skiing regular will confirm that s/he stood in long lift lines in April.  If the area doesn’t want to open the kitchen, there are many mobile food vendors who could be invited to set up in the parking lot with the area negotiating a percentage of the take.
    2. Ability to scale operations to one lodge, one lift and minimal grooming cost
    3. Season Passes: Make Season passes valid from March 15 to April 1 of the following year.  If you want to ski in April or May of this season, you need next year’s season’s pass!
    4. Free Education: Every sport is pushing the boundaries of their season.  The prevailing wisdom is that people burn out on skiing.  In basketball, March Madness runs into April; NHL hockey continues to June, Baseball goes to November and Football finishes in February.  Skiing should also be able to pursue a longer season with success. There are a few minor changes to the skill mix for skiing spring snow.  Educate the consumer on how to enjoy it. 
    a. What trails are best when.  Early AM: groomers; as temperatures warm, the ungroomed becomes better.  It might be useful to have a courtesy patrol out posting signs for what (and where) the skiing is best.
    b. Post a few instructors to provide tips.  The modern ski is much easier to carve and the essence of spring skiing is carving.
    c. Many sophisticated skiers see a bare spot on the slopes in April, hear of a rain storm and assume that the skiing is done.  This just isn’t the way the spring melt out works and a little education goes a long way.
    5. Ability to maintain a skeleton staff of employees willing to work on-call for late season

    Comments?
    I might add "consistency."  Seems to me Killington gets more spring customers because people  know that Killington is open, it's sort of the default answer to "who is still open" 

    they didn't for a year or two but overall they're known for being open late.

    Bretton Woods went very late a few years back, but they didn't make a habit out of it, so they don't come to mind for late season skiing

  • Does it seem like most ares stayed open a little longer say 20 years ago or so? I remember when Mt Snow tried to ski into May on the North Face. Even using the main face lifts just to up and down load. In those days Mt Snow cared about more than Caranthia and Long John.
  • jaytrem said:

    .....I found it interesting to see so many day tickets at Big Boulder last weekend.  Good size crowd too.  If I was a PA park rat (which pretty much almost everybody there seemed to be) I would surely buy a Big Boulder pass with their extended season.  Also interesting was the almost complete lack of pre-teens and younger kids that day.  Including my 2 I would guess there were around 10 total.

    Not sure about PA but here that would be no surprise as most families are at Disney this week.
    ISNE-I Skied New England | NESAP-the New England Ski Area Project | SOSA-Saving Our Ski Areas - Location SW of Boston MA
  • Something else to consider-- getting spring skiing going is an investment that has to start in literally December when the spring trails have to have a big buildup of snow in order to make it that long. We hammer Steins, Spring Fling, Organgrinder, Downspout, lower Grinder and upper and lower Jester to build up that base. It's a big gamble because every inch of snow put on those trails is an inch not somewhere else. I am not sure how much Killington has to put down to keep going until June, but I assume they have to literally put feet of snow on those trails to make it that far. 
    "Making ski films is being irresponsible with other people's money, in a responsible sort of way..." 
    Greg Stump
  • Sugarbush sure must have been profitable on Sunday, wow. The lots were packed and some chairs had lines. I waited about 10-15 for Castlerock. By the time I got on a chair, the line was just about double. Never road Heaven's Gate but there was a decent size line before noon when I passed it. Spent most of the day skiing Twist, damn sweet bumps down low. About as crowded as I have ever seem any place during the last week of April. I think so many areas shutting down with high demand and lots of snow set folks to places they might not normally ski. The less areas that go late, the more likely that the few remaining will be profitable (if the weather is good, I heard Saturday wasn't so crowded).
  • bmwskier said:

    Something else to consider-- getting spring skiing going is an investment that has to start in literally December when the spring trails have to have a big buildup of snow in order to make it that long. We hammer Steins, Spring Fling, Organgrinder, Downspout, lower Grinder and upper and lower Jester to build up that base. It's a big gamble because every inch of snow put on those trails is an inch not somewhere else. I am not sure how much Killington has to put down to keep going until June, but I assume they have to literally put feet of snow on those trails to make it that far. 

    I've heard Superstar gets in the neighbourhood of 25 feet.

  • newman said:

    bmwskier said:

    Something else to consider-- getting spring skiing going is an investment that has to start in literally December when the spring trails have to have a big buildup of snow in order to make it that long. We hammer Steins, Spring Fling, Organgrinder, Downspout, lower Grinder and upper and lower Jester to build up that base. It's a big gamble because every inch of snow put on those trails is an inch not somewhere else. I am not sure how much Killington has to put down to keep going until June, but I assume they have to literally put feet of snow on those trails to make it that far. 

    I've heard Superstar gets in the neighbourhood of 25 feet.

    I will second that.
  • A vast majority of the ski areas in SNE closed with plenty of snow to keep going into April. Catamount, Otis Ridge, Butternut, etc closed with near 100% cover.

    The ticket lady at Otis told me that they did poorly during the majority of the ski season due to extreme weather. It's hard to keep going into spring if your potentially in the red at end of the season.

    Ski Conditions Report: A detailed report describing the snow conditions on the mountain the day of your visit. Skiers should become familiar with the following snow surface descriptions: Ice: Packed Powder, Slush: Packed Powder, Frozen Granular: Packed Powder , Packed Powder - A thin covering of snow over bare earth.

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