As California ski resorts and nearby towns deal with one of the heaviest snowfall seasons in decades, the Eastern U.S. and Europe have had a dismal year.
Even with a storm this week that dropped more than two feet of snow in some parts of New England, the resorts there and across Europe have struggled mightily with dry and warmer-than-usual conditions.
“Those two regions specific to the winter sport business has really impacted the future outlook of the industry,” said Nick Sargent, president of Snowsports Industries America.
“When you start to think about where the winners are for businesses, globally, we’ve got some significant weak spots. And then we also have some very strong areas, but the weak spots outweigh the stronger areas.”
The stronger areas include the ski resorts in the Rockies and in California, where snowfall has surpassed 50 feet this season in some areas.
According to the National Weather Service, the weather station near Mammoth Lakes, California (the town nearest to Mammoth Mountain) has recorded an unprecedented 210 inches of snowfall. That breaks the record of 125 inches for this time of year.
In South Lake Tahoe, historic snowfall has shut down parts of the town, cut off power and destroyed roofs of buildings.
This week, USA Today reported that the lifts at California ski resorts Sierra-at-Tahoe and Bear Valley Resort were buried in snow and couldn’t operate.
Weather forecasters are predicting another snow dump for Tahoe this weekend.
The Daily asked Sargent to describe what is happening around the world and give his thoughts on how the season has gone.
The winter in Europe has been mild, with not much snow, so a lot of resorts on the continent either closed or didn’t open at all, according to Sargent.
Austria, Switzerland, Italy, France, Germany and Spain have been impacted by the lack of snow.
“If you were watching any of the World Cup ski racing in Europe, you would have seen that the only snow was on the race hill,” Sargent said. “There’s just very little snow in the valleys in general. It has been a rough winter in Europe.”
Sargent said this year there’s been no consistent snow in New England. The weather has been mostly dry and mild. The region only recently had a few big snowstorms.
That warm weather made for difficult snowmaking. “It gets really expensive,” he said.
Resorts in the region typically make snow in the late fall and early winter to get the mountain open as early as possible and create a nice foundation. “But they never had that time because it was warm,” Sargent added.
The overall poor conditions led to Vail Resorts lowering its fiscal guidance for the year, with the company saying the 26 Eastern U.S. resorts were likely to underperform seasonal expectations by about $43 million.
In Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, “it’s been a phenomenal winter,” according to Sargent.
“So much so that people are flocking from all over the world to get to Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and Idaho to enjoy the snow.”
However, in some areas they’ve had too much of a good thing. Sundance Resort in Utah, for example, had to close for a few days because of too much snow.
Further west, the Lake Tahoe area has been getting dumped on.
“They’re going through a pretty interesting cycle and season where they have so much snow there have been some resorts that have not opened every day,” Sargent said. “They needed time to catch up with snow removal. Needed time to dig out.”
When a only has 120-150 days to drive revenue, unless it’s owned by Vail or Alterra and has a pass system, those closures cause the business to suffer, he added.
The area around Mammoth Mountain has also been hit hard by heavy snow. The maintenance and removal of that much snow can be a pretty significant expense. But the big storms are likely bringing in enough customers to offset those costs, Sargent said.
It has been a nice, normal winter in Asia, according to Sargent.
In February, Australia-based snowboard retailer Twelve Board Store reported coverage was good, with most of the Niseko’s main lifts in operation.
Overall, Sargent pointed out that heavy snowfalls were normal a decade ago or more. He referenced his own experience living in Park City, Utah in the ‘90s, and said seasons like this were more common then.
“Everything’s cyclical,” he said. “Certainly, climate change has something to do with this as well. But I think what we’re seeing in Tahoe or Mammoth or Park City, these are the way winters used to be.”
In the end, the heavy snowfall is exciting, according to Sargent.
“It’s great for business,” he said. “It’s great for the stoke factor.”
Bart Schaneman can be reached at email@example.com.