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SIA hosted a webinar Thursday with leaders from ski regions around the country to discuss resort operations and conditions for the upcoming season. The call—which including Ski California president Michael L. Reitzell, Ski Utah president and CEO Nathan Rafferty, Colorado Ski Country president & CEO Melanie Mills, and Ski Vermont president Molly Mahar—was surprising in its sense of normalcy, given everything that happened to resorts over the past two years. The speakers were confident that the 2021/22 season is going to look a lot different than last year.
“Most outdoor activities are going to look pretty close to normal,” said Reitzell, who noted that, although most operations across the country will open at pre-pandemic capacity, masks may still be required in some areas.
Rafferty echoed Reitzell with similar excitement. “We’re excited to be loading ski lifts at full capacity. It will look like pre-pandemic levels,” he said.
The overall tone of the call, moderated by Verde Brand Communications founder and CEO Kristin Carpenter, was one of optimism.
New participants flock to the mountains, but staffing issues remain
The four regional leaders spoke in a roundtable format about the opportunities ahead for the season, including welcoming more newcomers to winter sports. Mills highlighted the efforts at the state’s ski resorts to promote food and drink offerings, new seating options, and other draws that could help welcome those potentially checking out a mountain resort for the first time.
Mahar noted her state’s strict Covid protocol through 2020 and some of 2021 limited the number of people visiting a state resort for the first time. Easing restrictions and a re-opening of the Canadian border to non-essential travel, she said, would prompt those kinds of visitors begin to trickle in again.
Neutralizing a bit of the rosy outlook was a shared concern about available workforce. Each region reported issues in line with national labor shortages, which could mean longer lift lines and less lodging availability.
“We’re asking for patience and gratitude [with guests and employees],” Mills said.
Reitzell brought up a unique challenge for many of his state’s resorts, located in towns where the average home sale price is over $1 million, making rental properties unattainable for seasonal workers. “[In those cases], there’s no way to have affordable housing for employees,” he said.
This may also extend to how visitors actually get to resorts. Mills noted that a widespread retirement of snowplow drivers could mean more time clearing roads after big storms, which could delay skiers getting to the mountains.
Improving the consumer experience
Mahar said that because the pandemic was a catalyst for so many technological advancement that redefined consumer interaction elsewhere in the industry, she expects the same when it comes to mountain resorts. Some resorts in Vermont instituted a presale for lift tickets in an effort to streamline customers’ overall experience.
Reitzell said that consumers now expect a certain amount of ease in the entire resort process, which will only help to earn repeated visits for the resorts that embrace easier lift-ticket purchasing and access.
“Consumers hate obstacles in the way of their experience and have very little patience for it,” Carpenter said.
Beyond staffing and certain technological challenges, snow-seekers will be happy to know that mountain regions across the country are preparing for a fully operational season.