If it snows, they will come, ski resorts find

Fri Jan 23, 2009 3:10am EST
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By Claudia Parsons

MOUNT SNOW, Vt (Reuters) - Lost jobs, bankruptcies and home foreclosures have forced Americans to cut their spending, but one luxury sector is more interested in weather forecasts than economic forecasts -- the ski business.

"People who love to ski will find a way to ski," said Dennis Butchko, a retired teacher who volunteers as a resort "ambassador" at Mount Snow in Vermont, offering advice and safety tips to skiers in return for a season pass.

While major resorts in Colorado such as Vail and Aspen have seen a drop in visitors, Mount Snow and other resorts in the U.S. East say they are benefiting from a rise in skiers who might normally fly west but chose to drive to nearby resorts instead.

Resort manager Kelly Pawlak said Mount Snow has seen a more than 10 percent jump in season pass sales this year, and while Christmas was a little slow, January 2, which fell on a Friday and enjoyed great snow, was the busiest day since 2004.

"Good snow really does trump a down economy," said Parker Riehle, president of the Vermont Ski Areas Association, whose 20 resorts have mostly seen business grow this year.

Riehle was among dozens of central and eastern resort managers and officials attending a trade fair and conference of the National Ski Areas Association at Mount Snow this month, where a mood of cautious optimism reigned, despite a recession.

NSAA president Michael Berry said three seasons ago, "the economy was just humming, people had money, but it was a difficult weather year and we were off 10 to 12 percent."

Berry said there had been a redistribution of the market, with drive-to weekend resorts faring better than spots in the West such as Vail and Aspen, both in Colorado, which rely more on visitors who fly long-distance and stay for a week or more.   Continued...

<p>Skiers ride the chair lift at Park City Resort during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah January 17, 2009. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson</p>