California Ski Resorts Have Seen 40% Less Visits Since 2010

Miles Clark | | Industry NewsIndustry News
Squaw Valley, CA during last year's historically low snow year in California. photo: washingtontimes.com
Squaw Valley, CA during last year’s historically low snow year in California. photo: washingtontimes.com

The historic 4-year drought in California has been affecting California ski resorts powerfully the past 4 winter seasons.  Since 2010, California ski resorts have seen a 40% drop in skier visits.  California ski resorts are responding by putting up zip-lines, mountain coasters, rope courses, and mountain bike trails to turn their ski resorts into year round destinations that rely less on annual snowfall amounts.

California ski resorts are hoping that the coming strong El Nino will bring the big snow to California this winter.

If this winter ends up being another drought year for California ski resorts, it’s going to put many of these ski resorts in a very tough position.  Last year, many California ski resorts were forced to close for the season in January after low snowfalls left them almost completely devoid of snow.

NOAA reported earlier this year that California saw it’s worst snow year in 500 years in 2014/15.

Skier visits in California are dropping, especially in the past 4 drought years.
Skier visits in California are dropping, especially in the past 4 drought years. image: latimes.com

One way California ski resorts are adapting to the new normal of snow-less winters is by offering season passes that give something back to the buyer if the ski season ends up being another dud.

Squaw Valley & Alpine Meadows are offering a “worry-free guarantee” that give some pass holders up to four days of credit towards the purchase of a 2016/17 season pass. 

Mt. Rose in Lake Tahoe, CA is began offering a season pass that can be used one weekday out of each week for only $229 per the season, which is about 50% cheaper than the full season pass.

Rising temperatures in California are not helping snowfall.
Rising temperatures in California are not helping snowfall.

Mountain High ski resort in southern California is giving pass holders credit towards a pass in the 2016/17 season if they ski 4 days or fewer this winter.  If pass holders ski two or fewer days this year, they get 50% off a season pass next winter.  If skiers ski 3 or 4 days, they get 25% off next year’s season pass.

Another great option for Californians is Vail’s Epic Pass because you have the insurance of being able to ski at Vail ski resorts in Colorado and Utah if California has a poor winter.

October-March precipitation in California each year since 1950 (gray dots), including 6 strong El Niño episodes (red dots). The average precipitation during the 6 El Niño episodes (red line) was much higher than the 1951-2014 average (gray line), but even so, some individual years were below average. NOAA Climate.gov graph based on analysis of U.S. Climate Division data (nClimDiv) by Deke Arndt.
October-March precipitation in California each year since 1950 (gray dots), including 6 strong El Niño episodes (red dots). The average precipitation during the 6 El Niño episodes (red line) was much higher than the 1951-2014 average (gray line), but even so, some individual years were below average. NOAA Climate.gov graph based on analysis of U.S. Climate Division data (nClimDiv) by Deke Arndt.

Californians have their fingers crossed that this winter’s El Nino is all it’s cracked up to be.  On average, California sees above average precipitation during El Nino years, but there are El Nino years that are well below average.

As always, we’ll just have to wait and see what this winter brings.


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