Covid safeguards a success, but ski areas face multimillion-dollar losses
As the 2020-21 ski and ride season begins to draw to a close, ski areas across Vermont are proud of successfully delivering a safe and healthy experience for guests despite the Covid pandemic. At the same time, the state’s ski industry is measuring the pandemic’s toll in multimillion-dollar losses, according to the Vermont Ski Areas Association (VSAA).
The closure of the Canadian border and some of the strictest travel and operational guidance in the country necessitated numerous changes and limitations in ski area offerings and operations this season. Despite this, Vermont’s ski areas have remained open, providing the world-class skiing and riding for which the state is renowned.
“Ski areas worked closely with the state and their local communities and we thank them for all of their support this season. We also want to thank all our ski area employees who worked really hard to make this season happen, as well as all the skiers and riders who came out to the mountains,” said Molly Mahar, VSAA president.
The downside of that success has been increased costs and sharp declines in revenues. According to numbers compiled by VSAA, this season’s losses are estimated to be approximately $100 million. Through the end of February, on a year-over-year basis, paid skier visits declined by more than 40%, lodging revenues by 60%,
and food and beverage revenues by 70%. Steep visitation decreases during the three crucial peak periods of Christmas/New Years, the Martin Luther King Weekend and Presidents’ Week had a large impact. Average overall revenues were down by approximately 30%, with some ski areas reporting losses of as much as 60%.
“Overall skier visits decreased by approximately 20% due to increased season pass visits partially offsetting declines in day visits. However, this commonly reported statistic does not adequately tell the story of how our ski areas have fared this season,” said Mahar. “The federal border closure and the state’s travel restrictions were a big reason for the large declines in day ticket sales and lodging revenues; while indoor capacity and gathering limits hurt food and beverage and ski school.”
Skiing in Vermont is typically a $1.6 billion industry annually, in terms of direct, indirect and induced spending.
“Obviously, this pandemic has been costly for many sectors. This is especially true for tourism – and skiing is no exception,” Mahar said. “With a business model that is already dependent on weather and other factors beyond our control, a $100 million loss this season due to Covid is a difficult obstacle for Vermont’s ski areas to overcome. This comes on the heels of substantial losses from last season and very limited business over the summer and fall.”
Reduced business and services also impacted staffing levels, affecting thousands of jobs and causing a ripple effect on surrounding communities. The average number of employees at Vermont ski areas decreased by 35% this year. In a typical season, the state’s ski areas employ upward of 13,000 people.
“This reduction in jobs, combined with less skier traffic flowing to local businesses, has hurt the rural areas of our state where most ski areas are located. Many businesses rely on skier traffic for their winter survival, and that traffic was off considerably this season,” Mahar added.
As more people get vaccinated and are able to travel freely into Vermont, ski areas look forward to getting their business back on track with summer activities, wedding and events.
Ski Vermont (Vermont Ski Areas Association) is a non-for-profit trade organization serving its 19 Alpine and 30 Cross Country member ski areas and resorts in three main areas: governmental affairs, marketing and public affairs. It’s an ambassador of the winter tourism industry in Vermont, where the legislature has designated skiing and snowboarding as the official state sports. Ski Vermont’s mission is to help foster a social, economic and legislative environment in which the state’s ski areas can grow and prosper. For more information visit SkiVermont.com.