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If you’ve been to a ski resort before, you’re sure to know how expensive a winter skiing vacation can be — especially if you factor in ever-increasing lift tickets and pricey lodging accommodations.
With over 100 million skiers participating each year, the ski industry is unsurprisingly worth billions of dollars. Ski villages and surrounding cities have grown to rely on the tourism that ski resorts command year after year. Without this revenue and heavy tourist presence, there are harsh economic impacts.
An Overview of the Ski Industry Key Statistics
Skiing has global popularity and within Europe and America specifically, there are hundreds of thousands of participants each winter season. North America boasts a 50 billion dollar ski industry and Colorado in particular attracts both casual participants and the best of the best to its world-renowned mountains and resorts.
Of all the European countries, Germany prides itself on having the most skiers each season — with nearly 14.6 million participants. The European Alps attract a diverse crowd who travel from all over the world and want to experience the majesty of the mountains first-hand.
In the Alps, winter sports and recreation bring in a significant 33 billion dollars annually and this directly affects the surrounding regions based on how many tourists the resorts attract. After the pandemic, there was a decline in turnout that has since been trending back upwards.
Looking towards China, where the ski industry has been growing and maturing over recent years, major economic growth is expected as the sport gains footing and popularity with the citizens. North American and European resorts are gearing up to accommodate thousands of newcomers who want to experience a traditional ski resort for the first time.
Searches for ‘Skiing’ Related Topics Across the World, 2014-2022
Countries highlighted in a darker blue are where the majority of ‘Ski’ related searches are made. Alpine European countries, Nordic countries, and North America (USA & Canada) are the most popular places to ski based on their Geography – so unsurprisingly these regions make up the bulk of searches.
New Zealand, Australia & South Africa – all countries with ski resorts – still account for a sizeable interest in the topic in the Southern Hemisphere.
How Is the North American Ski Industry Faring?
The largest factor affecting the ski industry as a whole within the United States is the number of domestic trips residents are able to make each season. With less leisure time, people are unable to travel to a resort for a weeklong stay and this causes an ensuing decline in revenue for the resorts.
The ski and snowboard resort industry hit a peak in 2019 at 3.46 billion dollars in market size, which is measured by revenue. The industry saw a decline over the next couple of years, which can largely be blamed on the pandemic.
With the onset of COVID-19, people were unable or unwilling to travel to take their yearly ski vacations, therefore causing the loss of nearly a billion dollars for the domestic industry.
However, the market is forecast to steadily increase during the 2022 season and beyond, as people are able to return to their regular activities and feel safer doing so with widespread vaccinations and treatment options.
Taking a look at the state with the most popular ski resorts, Vail and Breckenridge, Colorado naturally relies on the ski industry to boost revenue and job prospects. A study has shown that the Centennial State brings in around 4.8 billion dollars in economic output each year from the ski industry alone and hosts over 40,000 jobs.
The trend for ski resort ownership has shifted over the last few decades with smaller resorts shutting shop or being bought out by larger conglomerates such as Vail Resorts & Alterra Mountain Company which own 31 ski resorts across North America. Learn more about Who Owns Ski Resorts?
Skiing Interest across the United States
What Type of Economic Impact Does The Ski Industry Have?
Snowsports tourism has a massive impact on ski villages near resorts and the surrounding cities and towns of hugely popular resorts — such as those within the Vail Resort system. Being the largest player in the United State’s ski industry, they hold a great deal of power economically and drive steady winter revenue brought in by the tourists that they attract.
Bringing in around 20 billion dollars a year, the ski resorts are the main source of revenue for the winter sports industry as a whole. Families can spend thousands of dollars on a single ski trip and this money is multiplied by the hundreds of thousands of visitors that Vail and Breckenridge attract each season alone.
Not only do ski resorts bring in millions of dollars each season from rentals, lift tickets, lodge accommodations, and lessons — they also provide local hotels, restaurants, and small businesses with a boost in customers. You can even include gas stations and grocery stores into the mix, as they see an increased number of visitors during the peak of ski season.
Wherever large groups of people congregate, they naturally need to sleep, eat, and entertain themselves. This provides many businesses outside of the resort itself with the opportunity to attract a new crowd of consumers and to grab a slice of the tourism pie themselves, so to speak.
Untapped Markets That Could Boost The Ski Industry
As with any industry, it’s always important to discover new markets and populations that can serve to grow revenue year after year. Though many people may not think of China as a skiing nation, the country has set its sights on having 350 million skier visits during the winter of 2022.
Since China hosted the Winter Olympics in February 2022, all eyes were on the nation for the various winter sports that were hosted during the event.
Naturally, the pandemic shifted goals and while there may not have been over 300 million skiers, there certainly has been a massive shift in the sport’s popularity.
In a country that’s larger than the United States, there is plenty of room for opportunity and for the sport of skiing to grow to new heights. Ski areas have been popping up overnight it seems and residents have been enthusiastic about participating in snow sports, with skiing and snowboarding being especially popular.
Many manufacturers in the United States have set their sights on selling goods to the Chinese market, such as apparel and equipment. Taking advantage of an untapped market such as China, with its millions of prospective and yet untapped winter sports enthusiasts, could mean millions of extra dollars in revenue for the industry as a whole — which is simply unheard of anywhere else.
This expansion into China serves as a prime investment ground for many companies looking to build out their businesses and provide the marketplace with the ability to embrace the sport of skiing. After all, it’s difficult to participate in the sport without a sturdy set of skis and the proper gear, even if you have access to a snowy mountain.
As the sport progresses within the country, tourism may rise at both European and North American ski resorts as the Chinese, with their booming middle class, may opt for a yearly family vacation to one of the larger, more traditional ski resorts to see what it’s all about.
Skiing Interest across the United States
Based on Googles searches, Vermont on the East Coast has the most ski-related searches from 2014-2022. This is despite Vermont being the second least-populated U.S. state after Wyoming and the sixth-smallest mainland state.
How Did The Pandemic Affect The Ski Industry?
Not only did the pandemic affect the number of visitors to resorts during the years 2020 and 2021, it naturally affected the available job opportunities at these resorts and in the surrounding ski villages. If the number of visitors is declining, there naturally aren’t as many employees manning the lifts and teaching lessons to newcomers.
As the nation experienced an overall lack of disposable income, the yearly ski trip became less of a priority for many families. Ski resorts largely depend on a younger crowd of seasonal workers, who have the ability to work long hours and move away from home for months at a time.
The North American resorts weathered the unexpected financial disruption relatively well and many of the seasonal employees are eager to make a comeback, as it’s hard to beat a job where you’re spending the day outdoors participating in the sport you have a passion for.
Despite the layoffs and period of uncertainty brought on by Coronavirus, these “ski bums” won’t be kept from the mountain for long.
Due to the pandemic, the North American ski industry took a hit to the tune of 2 billion dollars. With the 2020 season cut short after many resorts shut down in March, there was simply no more revenue to be made.
For the resorts that did open during the 2021 season, there were many precautions in place that limited how many skiers could be on property at once. This had an effect on the number of visitors and turnout that the resorts managed to attract and led to a decrease in tourism from previous years
Will Climate Change Harm The Ski Industry?
When looking at the ski industry from the standpoint of the climate, there has been a consistent decline in the average snowfall each year. Down over 40% from the early 1980s, the ski and snowboarding season has shrunk by over a month.
Of course, resorts have combatted this by investing in state-of-the-art snowmaking machines and are able to cover their hills in snow regardless of whether or not mother nature is cooperating. Smaller family-run ski hills have been most affected by the impacts of climate change, as they may be unable to spend hundreds of thousands on snowmaking capabilities.
In the winter arena of skiing and snowsports as a whole, snow is currency and without it — a ski hill will live or die based on its ability to provide a fully snow-covered ski area for its visitors.
Adapting to less natural snowfall is a requirement for many successful ski areas these days and unfortunately, without a great deal of upfront investment, many local areas can’t compete with their well-funded competition.
With so many mountain communities relying on the economy of skiing, it can be a real detriment when multiple hills close down, effectively ending the jobs they brought with them. Along with a loss of jobs, many families can’t afford a trip to Breckenridge and are forced to give up winter skiing if they don’t have access to a more local hill.
It’s difficult to say how much shorter the winter season will be cut over the next several decades and if the ski industry will be able to manufacture enough snow to manage the shortage.
The dichotomy of the industry is apparent when you consider the implications of tourism and the emissions into the environment by planes and cars. There is an urgent necessity to fight the climate crisis in order to have a ski season at all and for locals sitting in traffic for hours to even reach the mountain, the irony is obvious.
The ski industry is a powerful player in local and global economics and with much power yields much responsibility. With billions of dollars of revenue on the line, it can be incredibly detrimental to employees and the surrounding cities when tourism isn’t quite up to the expected level.
While the industry as a whole is moving in a forward direction, the pandemic had a noticeable toll on the thousands of seasonal workers who flock to the ski hills every season. Though not a guaranteed job, it’s one that many young people have come to consistently rely on every winter.
As skiing and more generally, snow sports, grow into untapped markets — revenue is expected to increase year over year and participation is on the rise. The industry has significant room to expand and it’s certainly something to keep an eye on during the upcoming ski season.
NewToSki.com is where over 1 million people a year come to learn more about skiing. I share everything I wish someone had told me when I was learning to ski. My name is Simon & I've been skiing since 2005. This winter, our family is taking a 3-month camper ski trip across the Alps. If you enjoy our articles, please join the free email club. We'd love to have you.
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