Mountain resorts emphasize diversification of attractions

The 41st annual Mountain Travel Symposium kicked off in Keystone, Colorado, on April 3.
The 41st annual Mountain Travel Symposium kicked off in Keystone, Colorado, on April 3. Photo Credit: Danny King

KEYSTONE, Colo. — Panelists at the Mountain Travel Symposium (MTS) stressed the need to diversify services and attractions as the number of people who visit mountain resorts strictly to ski and snowboard flattens.

Mountain resorts are using family-friendly activities, higher-quality food and beverage outlets, and summer attractions to boost annual visitor numbers.

Panelist Steve Wright, chief marketing officer of Vermont’s Jay Peak Resort, said the additions of a hockey rink and water park have drawn more visitors that would’ve otherwise been dissuaded by challenging weather conditions. He noted that Jay Peak hosts 45 weekend hockey tournaments per year.

“Each weekend, there are 300 rooms [reserved] that are untethered to the weather,” Wright said.

Panelist Rob Perlman, president of Colorado’s Steamboat Ski & Resort Co., spoke of expanding the town’s reputation as a biking “mecca” as a way to draw people beyond the hardcore skiers and snowboarders.

“We’re very focused on growing our summer business,” said Perlman, adding that Steamboat added a bike park three years ago.

Mountain resort operators have been spurred to broaden their offerings as winter-sports visitor numbers have fluctuated in recent years. Last season, the number of skiers visiting U.S. resorts fell for the first time in three years, declining 5.1%, to 53.6 million visits. That was the second-lowest figure in 15 years and an 11% drop from the record 60.5 million visits in 2010-11, according to the National Ski Areas Association trade group.

For this season, lodging occupancy in Western U.S. and Rocky Mountain resort towns through the end of February was up 3.6% from a year earlier, according to DestiMetrics, which tracks the lodging demand at 19 mountain resort towns across California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming.

With that in mind, the MTS panelists said resorts could still do a better job drawing younger skiers and families by making the process of getting skiers and their gear to the mountain easier.

“How can we continue to adapt and innovate to make our industry more healthy and vibrant?” asked Perlman on the panel. “We’re not performing heart surgery here.”

The 41st Mountain Travel Symposium, which attracted about 1,200 attendees, opened on April 3 and runs through April 9.

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