Low Business for Snow Business as Ski Resorts Struggle This Winter

Warm Weather Also Has Fewer Escaping to Tropical Climes

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The weather this winter has been unseasonably warm -- which is definitely not cool for those who rely on the frigid temperatures and snow storms for business.

"It's been a challenge, no question about it," said Dave Byrd. Mr. Byrd is the director of risk management for the National Ski Areas Association, based in Lakewood, Colo., and his job title and description has been put to the test this winter. All across the country, warm temperatures have put a damper on traditional winter activities, such as skiing.

There were 60.5 million visits to ski resorts in the U.S. last season, "and that 's going to be down this season," Mr. Byrd said. "We don't collect skier visits until end of season, but they're going to be down. We just don't know by how much. What's unusual is , this has affected a large portion of the country, not just the northeast."

Last year, the 2010-11 ski season, was fueled by an incredibly snowy winter. This season? Not so much. By way of example, in Albany, the state capital of New York, approximately 17 inches of snow has fallen this season -- the city was blanketed with 87 inches last year.

And it's that way all across the country, leaving marketers in a quandary.

"Everyone is struggling. It's been a bizarre winter," said Jessica Pezak, marketing and communications manager for the Hunter Mountain Ski Resort in upstate New York. "We've been lucky because of our snow-making capabilities."

Indeed, Hunter Mountain is the self-proclaimed snow-making capital of the world. Even with that lofty title and its artificial snow machines dusting tons of snow on the mountain, Hunter still had to close seven of its 55 trails. And while 90% of the trails are open and completely covered with snow, it's still been a challenge to market.

"When there's no snow in the metropolitan [New York] area, it's hard to get people up here," said Ms. Pezak, who has ads running in New York City touting the fact that Hunter's trails are covered and advising skiers to check out the mountain's webcam on its online site for verification.

Paul Pearlman, president of Forest Hills, N.Y.-based Emilio's Ski & Snowboard, knows exactly what Ms. Pezak is talking about. Not only does Emilio's sell ski equipment, it also arranges about 20 bus trips a month for denizens of the concrete jungle to travel upstate and to Vermont to ski.

"We're off. There's no question about it," Mr. Pearlman said. "We're off a good 15% compared to last year but, to be fair, last year was a banner year. But, right now, we could stand outside and give the stuff away but nobody is taking it."

Asked how to combat that when his business is so reliant on the weather, Mr. Pearlman said that "we ask skiers to temper their expectations. If they were looking to go up and ski from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. non-stop, it's not that kind of winter. If they are looking to go up and ski, do a few turns, have some optimal runs, have lunch, get some sun and enjoy the day, that 's what this season is like."

Many ski resorts have dropped prices in hopes of luring customers. Ski Sundown, in New Hartford, Conn., for instance lowered its lift tickets to $30 from $54 on Thursdays.

The warmer-than-usual temperatures have also made it challenging to book travel from traditional cold spots, such as the Northeast, to sunnier climates.

"Clients who booked trips a year in advance, six months in advance, they're still going," said Richard Beck, president of luxury travel agency Classic Travel, New York. "Clients who call and say 'Get me out of here!' are not calling at this time. The people who in years past were so cold they couldn't stand it and said they wanted to get out of town, aren't getting out of town. The last-minute people are just not going anywhere because it's warmer and more tolerable where they are than in years past."

Even something as simple as the mom-and-pop hardware store is taking a hit over the warm weather, as sales of snow shovels, snow blowers and even rock salt are down.

"To put it in perspective, we get our bags of rock salt by the pallet," said Watler Letanski, owner of Walter's Hardware Store in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., noting that each pallet contains 120 bags of rock salt. "We got two pallets early in the season this season and we still have a pallet left. Last season we went through two pallets before Christmas. Two years ago, when we had a lot of ice storms, we went through a pallet a month. There's no question that sales have been off."

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