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Ski resorts get first snow, open season

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Thursday, January 01, 2009

MtHood Timberline ski area saw a 27% increase in visitors last year, which was a record-breaking season for Oregon ski resorts.

STATEWIDE A healthy dose of early season snowfall helped Oregon ski resorts tally more than 2 million paying visitors last year, an industry record that may prove difficult to match this year.

This ski season many resorts pushed back the typical date they hoped to open because of inadequate early snow.  Mt. Bachelor ski resort opened on Thanksgiving last season, but this year it opened mid-December. The Mt. Ashland resort also opened about a week later than usual.

“Every single year one part of the country starts late,” says Alex Kaufman, marketing director at Mt. Bachelor. “We are getting the short end of the stick right now.”

Mt. Bachelor and Ski Anthony Lakes were the only resorts last season that didn’t see an increase in visitation. Mt. Bachelor went from 524,920 visitors in 2006-2007 to 489,242 last year, according to the Pacific Northwest Ski Areas Association. Ski Anthony Lakes resort lost 1,672 visitors. Although Mt. Bachelor partially blamed its woes on geographic proximity and rising gas prices at the time, there was an upper management shakeup.

This season the price of gas is falling but the economy is in tatters. One indicator for ski resorts is early sales of season passes. Timberline ski resort, which saw a 27% increase in visitors last season, says pre-season sales of the Mt. Hood Fusion all-access pass are up from last year. Kaufman says Mt. Bachelor season-pass sales are up 20%. Mt. Ashland season-pass sales are flat.

So will Oregon ski resorts break another record? “People are looking for escapism, to get away from the headlines,” says Scott Kaden of the ski resort association. “It’s hard to predict. Now we need some cooperation from Mother Nature.”                                   

JASON SHUFFLER


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