Lake Tahoe’s ski resorts have undergone a brutal decline in domestic travel over the last decade. Since 2005, domestic visitors to the area have dropped by a whopping 40 percent – compared to only a 4 percent drop in visits to other Western ski resorts. What’s even more surprising? This decline isn’t being caused by California’s snow drought.
Executives at Tahoe’s ski resorts suspect the real root of this issue lies in transportation. The economic recession forced many airlines to cut back on service. Passenger service to Reno-Tahoe International Airport has been reduced from 90 daily departures in 2005 to only 61 today.
President and CEO of Squaw Valley Ski Holdings Andy Wirth knows the tourism industry in Tahoe relies heavily on air service. “There is one certainty, and that is if you’re inaccessible, no matter how much snow you have, you’re just not going to be desirable,” Wirth said.
The ski industry is an integral part of Lake Tahoe’s economy. Patrick Tierney, a professor of Parks, Recreation and Tourism at SFSU, estimates the economic impact of Tahoe’s ski resorts at a staggering $564.5 million – and that’s just over the 2013-14 winter season.
A sustained drop in domestic travel could be crippling for Lake Tahoe’s ski resorts, but Wirth is confident that with enhanced marketing efforts and improved air service, they’ll be able to bounce back. “It took us a while to get to 40 percent down. It will take us a while to get back up,” Wirth said. Until then, it means shorter lift lines and more runs for those of us who can make the trip.