Contributing editor Harvey Chipkin talked to Michael Berry,
President of National Ski Areas Association, about the outlook for
the ski industry.
TW: How was the winter of 1998-99 for the ski
Berry: We saw an exceptional weather pattern
this past year with any mountains east of the Sierra struggling.
That included much of the Rockies and New England. What really hurt
was an extended period of warm weather from December into January
-- peak season for us. It was often too warm even for snowmaking.
Also, the weakness of the Canadian dollars had an impact on our ski
areas, particularly drawing away travelers from Great Britain and
Australia. And, at a time when travelers wait until the last minute
to book, they were in a position to change their vacation plans. On
the other hand, the Sierras and Pacific West did very well because
of early season snowfalls.
TW: No matter the weather, the number of skiers
has not grown for a number of years. Is there a possibility for a
Berry: There are several reasons for optimism.
The demographics of the population are favoring those who tend to
ski. Also, the vitality of the real estate market in ski areas
means people have confidence in the industry's future.
TW: How is technology affecting the ski
Berry: There is so much information now and so
much of it is real time that people have the ability to make and
change decisions very quickly. That gives them the kind of
flexibility that didn't exist 10 years ago. Our research tells us
that households that ski regularly tend to be true techies and
electronic media is a good way to reach these people. They will
still use travel agents but they will use the Internet to gain
What is both intriguing and potentially unsettling is the use of
the Internet to auction off distressed inventory. We hope that
doesn't result in price wars.
TW: What's the update on industry
Berry: Consolidation has slowed measurably. We
are now in for a period of vertical integration, with the
construction of hotels and attractions by the large ski area
operators. Research shows that more area operators are not just
selling lift tickets. They are buying and managing hotels and other
amenities and attractions. For agents, that should mean easier
bookings through the area operator as a one-stop provider.