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Cold Weather, Hot Visits: Diving into Winter Resorts

by 
Caroline Wu
 on 
January 23, 2023
Cold Weather, Hot Visits: Diving into Winter Resorts

As many winter sports enthusiasts take to the slopes in search of fresh powder, we dove into the foot traffic data to see how the winter resort category fared over the pandemic and analyze how 2023 is shaping up for top winter destinations around the country. 

Ski Peaks and Slopes

As far as recreation and tourism are concerned, the winter resort space remained uniquely resilient during the pandemic years. The two dominant resort companies in the U.S., Alterra Mountain Company and Vail Ski Resorts, which operate multiple locations, have seen strong visits coming out of both the 2020/21 and 2021/22 ski seasons. And once again, it appears that ski resorts will remain popular for this winter season.

The first lockdowns in 2020 began in early spring, the tail-end of the winter sports season, allowing most cold-weather visitors to complete their vacations without missing a run. By the time the 2020/21 ski and snowboarding season came around, COVID vaccines were already rolling out and an outdoor ski vacation seemed like a relatively COVID-safe option. Despite slightly protracted visit peaks compared to the previous year, likely due to many resorts restricting total occupancy, the 2020/2021 season went off without a hitch and was one of the busiest on record. So busy, in fact, that the season appears to have stretched by a week or two on either end as winter sports enthusiasts were eager to trade face masks for ski masks and get back to the slopes after months of restrictions. 

A year later, the December 2021 rise of the Omicron variant threatened to derail the 2021/2022 ski season. But similar to the previous year, the perceived relative safety of a ski vacation and the desire to escape a stressful pandemic reality kept resort visitors coming during what became the busiest season on record. Resort visitation looked more like it did prior to the pandemic with lifts filled to capacity and the return of outdoor events and competitions. Once again, it seemed that nothing could keep skiers and snowboarders away from the sport. 

And for the current 2022/23 ski season, visits during key fall and winter holidays appear to be returning to levels similar to pre-pandemic foot traffic. In 2022, Thanksgiving weekend visits for resorts under the Alterra and Vail banners outperformed the previous year, while Christmas 2022 at Vail’s resorts was also ahead of 2021 levels. 

New Years Visit Lift

But although visits over holidays were strong in 2022, zooming into the last month of the year shows that weekly visits to some of the country’s top ski resorts were down for much of December 2022 compared to 2021. But these same resorts picked up momentum in the first week of January 2023 and outperformed the previous year by a large margin. This seems to indicate that, despite the bomb cyclone which grounded many flights and threw a wrench in vacation plans during this year’s anticipated holiday ski surge, many still managed to reach the slopes. Skiers and snowboarders who couldn’t make it to their favorite resorts in December due to the inclement weather appear to be rescheduling their trips. So while travel plans may have been delayed, winter resorts remained as popular as ever and snow-capped mountain chasers will not be denied. 

With a visitor base that won’t let anything stop them from punching their lift ticket, winter resorts are poised for strong foot traffic during the expected February and March 2023 visit peaks. 

Everybody’s Working For the Weekdays

Among the resorts that saw year-over-year (YoY: 2022 vs 2021) visit growth mid-December are two of the most popular ski and snowboard destinations in California – Heavenly Mountain Resort and Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort. 

The pandemic brought about the rise in hybrid and remote work, and with it, the flexibility for the ski enthusiast to hit the slopes in the middle of the work week. The tide of remote and hybrid work may have encouraged newcomers to fall in love with the sport as they no longer had to wait for vacation time or pay peak-season prices to get in some practice runs. And the influx of new participants plays a part in the growing number of total skiers and snowboarders nationwide.  

Both Heavenly Mountain and Mammoth Mountain resorts experienced an uptick in mid-week visits in November and December 2022 compared to 2019 and it’s likely that the working-out-of-office guest accounted for some of this visit growth.

High Altitude Visits

Winter resorts are experiencing strong foot traffic this season as adventurers are as eager as they have been in recent years to catch some well-earned time on the mountain. Location analytics shows that just like their guests on the slopes, alpine resorts are picking up speed.

For updates and more data-driven foot traffic insights, visit Placer.ai.

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