The recession and stock market collapse coming on the eve of winter might seem an ominous sign for the consumer-driven ski industry, but preseason sales at ski areas and ski shops do not reflect a slide, officials seem to agree.
There is anxiety and concern about what may lie ahead, but the cash registers were still ringing last week as skiers bought equipment and seasons passes.
“I’m very surprised; I’m hard pressed to explain it,” said Chic Wilson, owner of Willard Mountain. Wilson said preseason sales of season passes are exceeding the pace of last year.
“I wonder if people are going to ski closer to home,” he said. Still, he said, “I’m very concerned with [the recession]. ... I don’t know how this is going to shake out.”
Wilson said skiers may be looking for value. For a cost of a weekend at a big Vermont resort, he said, “you can ski all year here.”
Jim Blaise, owner of Royal Mountain, said the economic downturn did not affect his summer motocross season and he does not expect business to suffer this winter.
“It seems like in bad times recreation is the last thing people give up,” Blaise said. Blaise said he is so confident about the coming season he bought a new trail groomer. “Grooming and snowmaking will keep the skiers coming,” he said.
Jamie Georgelos, ski shop manager at Alpin Haus in Amsterdam, said business is better than expected. It appears, he said, that some people scrapped an annual vacation trip in favor of preserving their skiing programs. “We’re seeing a lot of people enthused about skiing this year ... more so than in previous years,” Georgelos said.
At Goldstocks Sporting Goods in Glenville, owner Doug Roylance said he is concerned about the economy but sales have been encouraging. “They’re virtually the same as they were last year,” he said.
Roylance said the Capital Region, with its state government and the universities helping maintain a stable job market, may be somewhat insulated from a serious economic dive nationwide.
“Just as we didn’t have the big run-up in real estate here, we’re not going to have the big downtown,” he said. If the bad economic news gets depressing, Roylance said, the reaction may be, “Hey, let’s go skiing, let’s do something fun.”
Kate Michener, marketing director at Maple Ski Ridge, said their slogan explains their optimism about this winter. “Ski Local, Ski Often” is the message, Michener said. “We’re just hoping people will take advantage of our convenient location,” she said. “We’re the only ski area in the Capital District.”
Michener said Maple Ski Ridge has cut weekday rates while offering season passes and accepting credit cards for the first time. Tykes Town, a Nov. 2 informational event to introduce young children to the sport, is just one of the “family-friendly” programs Maple Ski Ridge is conducting this season, Michener said.
Jiminy Peak is also reducing ticket prices, cutting the weekend day rate from $59 to $56, said Marketing Director Betsy Strickler. The reduced ticket prices, part of a strategy to combat the effects of a recession, will be as much as $20 less than a ticket at a major Vermont resort, Strickler said.
The price cuts have elicited excitement, she said, but only time will tell whether the strategy works. “It’s a gamble and we hope it pays off,” she said.
“We expect it to be a very interesting winter,” Strickler said.
Up Glens Falls way, West Mountain is reporting better season pass sales than last year and the destination ski shop, Sports Page, is having a normal preseason.
Sports Page owner Gary Higley said sales at his shop seem to correlate with ticket sales at nearby West.
After the 2001-02 recession, Higley said a ski magazine analyzed the effect on the industry. The conclusion then, he said, was “if it snows, we’re OK.” He said he is optimistic that will be the case again.
Though Gore Mountain and Whiteface may be more distant than Royal, Willard, West et al, management there views them as local.
“We’re a tank of gas away from 70 million people,” said Sandy Caligiore, spokesman for the Olympic Regional Development Authority, operator of both resorts.
Caligiore said he expects many skiers who routinely take a trip out West will prioritize in this recession and ski Gore or Whiteface.
While the statistics on season pass sales will not be complete until the Nov. 11 final discount deadline, Caligiore said sales are up at Gore and status quo at Whiteface.
Whatever happens with the economy, Caligiore said, it will be ORDA’s goal “to control the things we can control.” On that list, he said, will be providing the best snow on the mountains, the best ice on the rinks and the best service possible.