Sierra resorts ease recession impact with special deals

Heavy snowfalls bring rush to the slopes
By: Gloria Young, Journal Staff Writer
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When the snow gets good, the skiers get going. And the big snowfalls in February have brought out the crowds similar to years past, resort officials say. Those headed to the slopes will find an array of special incentives. At Sugar Bowl, the core rewards program is paying off for skiers and boarders as well as the resort, according to marketing manager Jennie Bartlett. “We’re giving points back for very dollar they spend. We have food vouchers, retail vouchers,” she said. “When they get those points, it entices them to spend a little bit more.” Another program new this season is a free ski or snowboard lesson and gear rental with the purchase of a lift ticket. “We started it last year, where we (offered it) every day in the month of March and April,” Bartlett said. “This year we decided we’d try it every Monday-Friday non-holiday.” The lesson offer is good for any level of skiing or boarding and runs through the season, she said. Northstar at Tahoe saw a slow start to the season, which spokeswoman Kirstin Cattell attributes to sparse early snow. “We definitely saw a lot of people interested in skiing and snowboarding when the snow came in February,” Cattell said. “… Once (the snow) started, everyone was really excited.” But Northstar is staying attuned to economic factors. “We have a lot of opportunities for people to find value at the resort,” Cattell said. “Because of the economy, we’ve introduced a lot of new programs this year at the Web site. Our quad pack has been very popular.” Mid-season, the resort also introduced an online equipment rental and lift ticket package. “Everyone has a little bit less disposable income this year and we’re trying to accommodate our guests,” Cattell said. “People are definitely looking for value.” At Squaw Valley, media spokeswoman Savannah Cowley acknowledged the economic downturn has affected her industry as it has most others, although she’s finding that family, holidays and snow are dictating attendance. “What we’ve found is that people really are doing their homework and are looking for deals and taking advantage of the fact that the resorts are offering discount programs, lodging deals and package deals,” she said. One thing Squaw Valley has done is offer incentives to state workers. “Following the announcement of furlough Fridays, we (decided) we would offer $30 lift tickets to all California state employees affected by furloughs,” Cowley said. “The first furlough Friday, Feb. 5, saw a pretty good turnout. Last Friday, which was the second furlough Friday, we saw a really good turnout of state employees …” There’s also “Learn to ski and ride days.” “We’ve had three so far and another one coming up this month,” she said. “On those days — (which are scheduled on Sundays) — beginning skiers and riders can get a lift ticket and equipment rentals for $35. “We thought that in this economy, one of the demographics of skiers that would be affected was beginners. If you’re already passionate about skiing and snowboarding, you are going to make sacrifices to come to up and ski or ride. If you are a beginner, it is not likely you’ll come up here and take up a new sport. With this discount, it will bring in new skiers. It was a good way to tackle that obstacle.” At Boreal Mountain Resort, general manager Jody Churich, agreed that snow has been the deciding factor. “We had a fantastic Christmas holiday and President’s Day. We were lucky because we had great snowfall, although it did create some road problems,” she said. However, Churich, who manages Soda Springs as well as Boreal Mountain Resort, has noticed some differences in visitors’ choices of activities. “Things like snow tubing and our Planet Kids and tubing program at Soda Springs have increased and those are affordable family things,” Churich said. The Journal’s Gloria Young can be reached at gloriay@goldcountrymedia. com or comment at