Reservations for western U.S. ski resorts fell 22.4% last month and are down 13% for the year, according to the Mountain Travel Research Program.

"Unfortunately, all of the bad news in October may be causing some historically resilient guests to remain on the sidelines by deferring their decision to make reservations or by generating increased cancellations," said Ralf Garrison, author of the Mountain Travel Monitor Report, which tracks lodging bookings for resorts in the western U.S. and Canada.

"Discretionary spending was the fuel that funded leisure travel in recent years, but the phrase is practically an oxymoron these days as cautious consumers curb their spending," Garrison said.

New reservation volume held up well in October, Garrison said, but was offset by cancellations that occurred when final payments were due and the sales were not consummated, particularly for the early season, including  the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday periods. 

Park City Mountain ResortTraditionally, ski lodging operators say good snow has had more influence on a season than the economy. But Garrison said the ability of snowfall to trump consumer confidence and recessionary forces this season is uncertain. 

"In a recent informal poll, unbooked destination guests, who typically spend considerably more on their vacation than day skiers and season-pass holders, were much more concerned about economic factors than snow conditions," said Garrison. "In fact, they considered good snow conditions a given, so heavy snowfall may not deliver the influx of visitors that many resorts have come to expect in good snow years."

Mountain resorts might need to react to deep discounts being aggressively promoted by both the cruise and gaming industries, Garrison said. They might also have to shift their focus to potential guests in close-in markets, or "one-tank guests."

"This 'epicenter effect' may provide an important fill-in opportunity for lodging properties that refocus on skiers and riders who are relatively close and more likely and able to react to offers and packages that can help fill beds and chairlifts," he said. 

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