MARTINSVILLE, N.J., June 5, 2013 /PRNewswire/ — After a dismal ski season last year – when skier visits plunged 15% – and a tepid start to the 2012/13 season, Mother Nature began to cooperate and allowed the industry to rebound nicely in the latter part of the season. Against this backdrop, preliminary data released by the National Ski Areas Association indicate that skier days totaled 56.60 million, a jump of 11% and the strongest year-over-year gain in 30 years. Although a vast improvement from the prior season, it fell short of the record 60.54 million visits logged in the 2010/11 season.
The season did not start out on a positive note, as weak early-season snowfall totals sparked bad memories of last year in many enthusiasts’ minds. Conditions improved, however, allowing visits during the Christmas & New Year’s holiday period to rebound 16%. The second half of the season was even stronger, as visits surged 25% over last year between March 25 th and closing. Regionally, the Northeast saw some of the strongest gains, with skier visits up 20% to 13.3 million. The region benefited from much-improved snowfall totals, as well as a colder-than-normal April, which allowed many resorts to stay open weeks longer than a typical season. On the other hand, the Rocky Mountain region, which did not experience as steep of a drop last year, recorded the smallest gain at just 1.9% growth over last season. While Vail Resorts reported a 5.5% increase in skier visits at its Colorado and Lake Tahoe locations, lift ticket revenues rose by a healthy 10.2%, suggesting increased pricing power. Ancillary spending also outpaced skier visit growth, with dining up 13.1%, ski school gaining 11.6%, and retail/rental revenues up 8.9%. The company’s management also noted that season pass preorders were off to a good start and ahead of last year’s pace as momentum from the end of this season has carried over to sales for next season.
The winter-related hotel and lodging industry not only benefited from the improved weather conditions, but echoed gains in the broader travel industry as the domestic economy, labor conditions, and stock market have improved since last year. With that being said, statistics from the Mountain Travel Research Program (MTRiP) showed that actual occupancy at western resorts was 7.2% higher than last year. March saw even stronger gains, with occupancy up 9.2% and average daily rates (ADR) rising 3.2%. Although an improvement from last year, the retail segment of the industry did not bounce back as strongly. Data from the Snowsports Industries of America (SIA) show that sales at snow sports retailers between August and March grew just 3% over last year’s total. Looking at the monthly breakdown, weather clearly played a large role. While sales were down in October (-4.5%) and November (-12.5%), things began to turn around in December (+2%) as the snow began to fall. Gains then accelerated, with year-over-year growth in January, February, and March clocking in at 19.3%, 8.1%, and 18.5%, respectively. Much of the gains for the year can be attributed to a 6% rise in the accessories category and 3% growth for apparel. On the other hand, equipment sales were flat for the year. Despite the late-season gains, inventory levels remained elevated at the end of the season, which could pressure ordering going into next season and force increased discounting. This does not portend well for makers of winter sports equipment, who are likely to face a second straight year of lackluster preseason orders.
Looking forward, the strong finish to this season bodes well heading into next year as it should boost confidence and enthusiasm. Continued upward momentum in the global economy would also provide a tailwind for the industry, though weather and snowfall totals, as always, will ultimately hold the wild card.
Founded in 1988, Condor Capital is an employee-owned, SEC-registered investment advisor based in Martinsville, N.J. employing 15 professional and support staff. Since Condor is a fee-only, investment management firm, its fees are based on portfolio size, not sales commissions or number of trades. For more information on Condor Capital, please visit www.condorcapital.com or call 732-356-7323.