- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 20, 2001

The recession and the uncertainty of air travel are giving East Coast resorts and retailers an upper hand in their effort to convince skiers to forget Vail, Colo., and ski locally instead.
Their plans seem to be working, as more people, still wary of travel, are buying more passes for local ski areas, rather than heading cross-country to the more well-known resorts.
Wisp Resort in Maryland and Ski Roundtop, Whitetail Resort and Ski Liberty in southern Pennsylvania saw their preseason ticket sales increase as a result of promotions created by two local retailers.
Now, if only it would snow. Unseasonably warm weather has delayed the start of the ski season for regional resorts.
Snowshoe Mountain Resort in West Virginia is poised to begin the season Saturday a full month later than its traditional pre-Thanksgiving start. That is the latest the resort has opened for skiing and snowboarding in its 27-year history. The four-week Thanksgiving-to-Christmas period usually accounts for 5 percent to 7 percent of Snowshoe's annual revenue.
Undeterred by the weather, area businesses are luring skiers with promotions.
Crown Petroleum, the Baltimore oil refinery, gave its customers a voucher good for rental equipment, a limited lift ticket and a learn-to-ski lesson, worth $50. Princeton Sports and Travel, a Baltimore sporting goods company and travel agency, is providing its customers with $100 worth of ski passes and lessons, when they buy a ski-equipment package.
The promotion between Princeton Sports and the local ski resorts has been a success, said Alan Davis, president of Princeton Sports and Travel.
"There's been an overwhelming response," Mr. Davis said. "Sales have increased an incredible amount." Mr. Davis says that since the program began on Oct. 1, 800 skis have been sold with lift tickets a 20 percent increase.
"The market's been down because the weather's been so bad, but the promo has made an incredible difference," he said.
Thanks to the promotion's popularity, Wisp Mountain is projecting an 11 percent increase in skiers, from 180,000 total last year to 200,000 this year.
The September 11 attacks and the recession apparently have made families think about how they spend their money during the winter months.
More people are just going to recreate in their back yards this year. Area ski resorts will do much better than destination resorts, said Bob Jones, an analyst with OneTravel.com, because people are afraid to travel.
"People are going to want to go where the Olympics will be held, but Seattleites will go to Stevens Pass and people in L.A. will head to Big Bear. People aren't going to head toward the Vails or Aspens," Mr. Jones said.
The Vail Valley Tourism and Convention Bureau only books about 5 percent of travel to the Vail resort, but even still, reservations at this time aren't like what they were last year, said Katie Barnes, the director of central reservations for the Vail Valley Tourism and Convention Bureau.
"We're down substantially from last year, and business has been affected by September 11," she said. Miss Barnes also said that snow arriving later than usual had a negative effect on ticket sales. Though the Vail area received 3 feet of snow in late November, it hasn't been getting enough.
In spite of the current warm spell, Snowshoe does not anticipate severe economic repercussions from its late start.
"Traditionally, we set our focus on Christmas and beyond," said Bruce Pittet, Snowshoe's vice president and general manager. "Thanksgiving and the following four weeks is typically a low-yield time of the year for us, and our lower lodging rates reflect that. While there is an obvious impact because we are not fully open, many of our guests have rolled over their reservations to deeper into the season. They're still coming, but at a later time."
This coming weekend, Snowshoe reports 40 percent to 45 percent occupancy, down from a typical 65 percent to 70 percent occupancy rate. There will be enough snow for skiers and snowboarders to navigate on four trails at Snowshoe and three trails at Silver Creek, Snowshoe's adjacent facility. More than 3 million gallons of water were converted to snow earlier this week and the resort received an inch of natural snow Tuesday.
The Christmas to New Year's week is traditionally a sellout, but is running in the 88 percent to 93 percent full range now.
"The last four weeks, we haven't been empty," said Mr. Pittet. "In fact, people who were here since Thanksgiving participated in a number of activities that we offered."
With snow guns roaring around the clock at Snowshoe, anticipation among skiers and snowboarders for a great winter season is as thick as a mountain whiteout.
If weather the next few months holds close to normal, this winter could be one of the best ever for Snowshoe and other Mid-Atlantic resorts.

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