Locals create the identity of a ski town: it’s imprint, ambiance, character. In a symbiotic relationship, the season’s visitors add to a town and resort’s flavor and, ultimately, keep the lifts running at the local ski hill.
Understanding the origin of visiting skiers sheds light on the commitment, investment and love they have for the sport. The beta can also help business owners tailor or refine their marketing, products, and services to reach that participant demographic.
Where The Majority of Skiers Live
A total of 9.8 million alpine skiers are sprinkled across the U.S., and those folks comprise about 40 percent of all winter sport enthusiasts: a big slice of the pie.
The five states that most downhillers call home aren’t all stereotypical ski states. The majority of downhill skiers hail from New York, Florida, Texas, California, and—in last place—Colorado, according to the 2017 “Participation Study,” published by SnowSports Industries America and the Physical Activity Council.
Aside from an indoor ski and snowboard facility in Florida, two of those five states—Texas and Florida—don’t have domestic ski resort options. Most skiers need to travel across state lines to explore the nation’s best terrain, snow, and ski culture.
The economic benefits of welcoming out-of-state travelers is huge. “The ski industry has a major impact on Colorado’s economy, especially in our mountain communities. The industry contributes roughly $5 billion annually to the state’s economy and supports over 46,000 jobs,” said Chris Linsmayer, public affairs director for Colorado Ski Country USA, a trade association with expertise in public policy, marketing, and communications that represents Colorado ski areas.
ALPINE SKIER STATISTICS
According to the 2017 Participation Study
The Middle Atlantic region—New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia—have the largest share of all alpine skiers, who go 9 or more times each season
Alpine skiers ages 45 and older are growing as a percentage of all alpine skiers
Vermont, Colorado, and Idaho have the highest percentage of alpine skiers per the total state population
Colorado hosts 20%-25% of all skier visits and, in that regard, is the country’s leading state for ski tourism, according to CSCUSA.
In a ripple effect, the Centennial State’s ski visitors spend more than 50 percent of their dollars at businesses outside of a ski area, explained Linsmayer.
To better understand the five primary feeder markets of the alpine skier population, SIA spoke with members and gathered data from their leading in-bounds ski area choices in the U.S. Here’s what we learned:
Origin state of 5.2 percent of the nation’s alpine skiers
Choice Resort: The number one resort in Colorado is Breckenridge, according to Ski.com (based off of Ski.com booking numbers.) “The nearly 3,000-acre resort offers an historic, charming mining town and a large variety of terrain, lodging options and price points. It’s proximity to Denver International Airport and inclusion on the Epic Pass are also factors that lend to it being the most popular resort,” said Dan Sherman, CMO of Ski.com.
Economic impact: In 2016, Breckenridge vacation visitors contributed $313 million to the Breckenridge economy between lodging and other purchases, according to Summit Rentals.
Fame: Breck boasts the highest chairlift in North America: Express Superchair, which carries skiers to almost 13,000 feet above sea level.
Eat: For fine dining, reserve a table at Hearthstone Restaurant, and order the blackberry elk. Downstairs at Eric’s serves up pizza and wings, and Twist dishes up comfort food like the duck confit ramen bowl. For chilly days, head to Pho on Main, and get a classic American fare at Empire Burger.
Recover: Head to Blue Sage Spa and Breck Body Bar for a post-ski massage or spa date.
Stay: Luxury-seekers stay at BlueSky Breckenridge. Get a ski-in, ski-out pad via Pine Ridge Condos.
Odometer: Denver International Airport is just 105 miles from Breckenridge via I-170.
Origin state of 10.3 percent of the nation’s alpine skiers
Choice Resort: “My favorite ski area in New York is Whiteface Mountain for its large terrain options for all skill levels. The trails are fun, the lifts are decent, and there’s even 35 acres of in-bounds, off piste terrain called the Slides: steep, narrow chutes that requires avalanche gear. Whitefish is also close to Lake Placid where there are many activities other than skiing,” said Marcin Rojek, Buyer and Services Manager for Paragon Sports in New York, NY.
Economic impact: Those who took a ski trip to the resort had average daily expenditures of more than $430.00, according to the 2017 Whiteface Ski Survey.
Fame: Whiteface was home to the 1980 Olympic downhill competition and the mountain has the greatest vertical drop of any the lift-served resort in the Northeast.
Eat: “A great impulse find in Lake Placid is the Pickled Pig, a BBQ and burger joint that’s open late. The beer selection is great, and the food is decently priced,” said Rojek.
Recover: Loosen up the skier’s quads with a class at Hot Yoga Lake Placid. The studio offers hot and non-heated classes plus a $30 one-week pass for unlimited classes.
Stay: “Anywhere in the town of Lake Placid makes the trip to Whiteface more fun,” said Rojek. The best bang for the buck is Crowne Plaza, according to TripAdvisor.
Odometer: Whiteface Mountain is 66 miles from Burlington International Airport.
Origin state of 15.5 percent of the nation’s alpine skiers
Choice Resort: Squaw Valley is the most sought resort in California, according to Ski.com. “Squaw is California’s largest ski resort—a total of 6,000 acres when combined with Alpine Meadows—and is rich in history, including hosting the 1960 Winter Olympic Games. Squaw is conveniently located near Reno, and beginners can experience the tram with green runs to ski down,” said Sherman.
Economic impact: Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows is the fourth largest employer in Placer County with 2,600 employees, according to the Sacramento Business Journal. Furthermore, recreation makes up 34 percent of visitor spending—$167 million—in North Lake Tahoe, reported the 2015 North Lake Tahoe Tourism Master Plan.
Fame: “A lot of pro skiers have called Squaw home over the years. It’s considered a West Coast proving ground among the birthplaces of big mountain and extreme skiing. Its expert terrain is well known, especially in the Palisades or “Squallywood,” and in the KT-22 and Granite Thief area,” Sherman said.
Odometer: Reno-Tahoe International Airport is a 49-mile drive to Squaw Valley.
Origin state of 6.2 percent of the nation’s alpine skiers
Choice Resort: “There are no ski areas in Texas! A lot of people here travel to ski. Direct flights from Dallas to Eagle, CO, make it so easy. I just got back from Steamboat, and the door-to-door trip is three hours,” said Bryan Antalek, General Manager of Sun & Ski in Dallas. And his all-time favorite place to ski? Silverton Mountain. “I love that Silverton has one little ski lift with the school bus at the bottom. There’s nothing much up there. You’re in small groups. The mountain manages where skiers and guides can go to explore on specific dates where on what dates. The terrain and the overall experience is great, and the ski area is only 10 minutes from town—where you can have interactions with a lot of interesting mountain locals,” said Antalek.
Economic impact: “We don’t actually pull a lot of visitors from Texas and Florida: that’s not our biggest market,” said Silverton Mountain Co-owner Jen Brill. “Before we started Silverton, everyone talked about ski areas like Snowbird and Big Sky, as the place that ‘you should’ve been at ten years ago.’ What’s cool about Silverton is that it maintains that. Not much has changed in the 17 years we’ve been here. It’s a step back in time to the one-horse town with no chain businesses or Hilton rewards. Our biggest selling point is the adventure aspect for someone who is looking to do something different,” she explained. While unguided visitation has been relatively flat, Silverton Mountain’s heli-ski operation has reflected a huge demand and the guided skiing has experienced moderate growth over the past few years, according to Brill.
Fame: There’s nothing like Silverton: It’s the only single chairlift-served backcountry ski area in the country. The terrain is exclusively non-groomed, guides are available for hire, and its one of the only places to helm-ski in Colorado.
Average annual snowfall: 400 inches
Terrain: 100% Advanced/Expert
Eat: Grab a breakfast burrito and caffeine kick from the Coffee Bear. Get a tasty salad, sandwich, pizza and local beer at Avalanche Brewing Company.
Recover: Head 24 miles north to Ouray for a soak in one of the town’s five local pools. Or, head back to the hotel to crash for the next day of powder runs: “When you’re at a mountain like Silverton you ski from first chair until they absolutely close the lift—I usually crash after,” said Antalek.
Stay: “We stay at Teller House Hotel, a little inn above a bar. You get a code to punch into your door code—very casual and nothing fancy,” he said.
Odometer: Silverton Mountain is 61 miles south of Montrose Regional Airport.
Origin state of 5.5 percent of the nation’s alpine skiers
Choice Resort: Every spring, Peter Glenn Ski & Sports hosts their annual demo trip with 150 employees and family members at Aspen Mountain (plus runs at Aspen Snowmass, Aspen Highlands, and Buttermilk.) “The Aspen resorts are in a great, convenient location. You can fly directly into the town of Aspen and have flavors of terrain between the four mountains. Aspen has so much heritage, Colorado history, and it’s a lot of fun with all walks of life,” said David Mahoney, Marketing Director Peter Glenn Ski & Sports.
Economic impact: Aspen Skiing Company operates four ski mountains, owns two hotels, manages another hotel, and is acquiring a fourth hotel. The company’s trickle down economic impact, from hotels to restaurants, plays a substantial role in the Roaring Fork Valley, said Jeff Hanle, vice president communications of Aspen Skiing Company: “The full-time population in the Valley is between 6K and 7K, another 2K in Snowmass, as well as the feeder communities. Aspen Skiing Company has 3,500-4,000 employees when we’re at full staff in the winter: that’s a sizable chunk of workforce. We’ve got ppl coming in from all over the world and major cities around the country including New York, Chicago, L.A., Miami, San Francisco and Houston.”
Fame: The Sundeck panoramic view of the Elk Mountains. Next door, the wide face of Aspen Highlands is a Colorado crown jewel. After a 20- to 50-minute hike, you reach the top of the bowl with 360-degree views of the Maroon Bells and Pyramid Peak, steep lines up to 48 degrees, and more than 4K vertical drop from the 12,392-foot summit to the base.
Eat: Grab an outdoor table at Highlands Alehouse for après margarita pitchers (or microbrews), nachos, wings, and salads. For one of the best (and wallet friendly) bar menus in town, grab a chair at L’Hostaria Ristorante; or make a reservation at Mezzaluna, one of Mahoney’s favorite places for Italian food. And don’t miss the Mongolian BBQ at the Cliffhouse at the top of Buttermilk mountain.
Recover: Unwind with a yoga and meditation class (or one-on-one session) with Aspen Shakti Owner Jayne Gottlieb. Then relax with the perfect glass of wine: visit Ellina Restaurant and Bar Sommelier Jill Carnevale, who created the Ellina wine list with more than 1,200 bottles with varieties from around the world.
Stay: “In Snowmass, we stay at Stonebridge Inn, because Destination Hotels has a ton of condo options. In Aspen, we stay at the base of the mountain at Sky Hotel (currently being renovated with a 2019 opening date) with a legendary pool that’s known as, where Vegas meets the mountains. After skiing, there’s always so much to do in Aspen,” said Mahoney.
Odometer: Aspen Pitkin Country Airport is a 4-mile drive northwest of town.
U.S. States With the Most Winter Recreationists
In addition to alpine skiing, the SIA Participation Study takes a comprehensive look at all 24.7M winter sport participants across the categories of freeskiing, snowboarding, cross-country, sledding—including saucer riding and snow tubing—telemarking, snowshoeing, and backcountry.
Overall, the majority of all winter recreationists are home to the South Atlantic Region (Florida, Georgia, South and North Carolina, Virginia, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware) where 4.7M snow sport participants live. According to the National Ski Areas Association National Demographic Study, 47.9 percent of that population take their visits to Rocky Mountain resorts.
Big picture: Sharing the powder lines with visitors isn’t indicative of divulging the locals’ secret stash, but it does mean more powder days for everyone—and increased job security. Continuing to create ski areas and towns that welcome participant diversity—culturally, ethnically, and of geographic origin—via our marketing collateral and service providers is vital for a healthy, sustained snow sport industry.
SIA is the trade association of the winter outdoor industry. Through SIA membership, brands, destinations, retailers, service providers and nonprofits solve immediate business problems, adapt to changing pressures, save and grow. #TheBusinessofWinter.