Snowboarder Ryan Vines finds fresh powder Thursday in Vail. Vail Resorts reported reduced visitation for the start of the 2023-24 season on Thursday, but said recent storms have improved conditions.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily
Vail Resorts on Thursday released a series of numbers for the start of the 2023-24 ski season through Jan. 7 that compares this season to the last one.
In the update to investors, Vail Resorts reported that season-to-date total skier visits are down 16.2%, but total lift ticket revenue is up 2.6% compared to the prior year. For the Christmas and New Year’s holidays in 2023, Vail saw the highest lift ticket prices in its history at $299 per day.
Ski school revenue is up 5% and dining revenue is down nearly 6% compared with the prior year season-to-date period, Vail Resorts also reported, with retail and rental revenue also down 13%.
Vail Resorts CEO Kirsten Lynch cited challenging weather conditions as the reason for the decline.
“Through the holiday period ended January 7, 2024, conditions across our North American resorts were below average in all regions compared to the strong early season conditions in the prior year period, leading to a decline in both local and destination skier visitation,” Lynch said in a release issued Thursday. “The unfavorable conditions impacted all of our North American resorts, and particularly our Eastern U.S. (comprising the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast) and Tahoe resorts, which were impacted by limited natural snow and variable temperatures that resulted in delayed openings, reduced terrain offerings, and select resort closure days through the holiday period.”
Challenging weather conditions have been a common refrain in recent years in Vail Resorts’ guidance issued to investors.
In January 2023, while explaining to investors why season-to-date destination guest visitation at western U.S. resorts was below expectations, Vail Resorts said extreme weather causing resort closures and airline disruptions impacted travel across the U.S. during the peak holiday period.
In January 2022, Vail Resorts also said the season had gotten off to a slow start due to challenging early-season conditions that were worse than expectations, and in January 2021, Vail Resorts said, again, snowfall levels were well below average at the company’s Colorado, Utah and Tahoe resorts through the holiday season.
And in 2020, “Results at Whistler Blackcomb and Stevens Pass were below expectations, driven by the poor early season conditions that continued through the holiday period,” former CEO Rob Katz said at the time.
Some investors responded with confusion over the results issued Thursday.
“Frankly, we are a bit confused by the company calling out strong early season conditions in the prior year as part of the reason for the miss; implies a difficult y/y comparison, which we do not believe is the case, perhaps with the exception of Colorado,” Truist Securities wrote to an update to investors issued Thursday. “Recall that a year ago the company called out guest visitation at their Western US resorts below expectations which they believed due to the negative impact of extreme weather causing resort closures and airline disruptions that impacted travel across the US during the peak holiday period.”
Truist analysts Patrick Scholes and Gregory Miller said if there’s a bright spot in the update, “it is that expectations were not high going into today as evidenced by the stock’s valuation about as low as any time over the past 10 years.”
Vail Resorts’ stock rallied throughout the day on Thursday, starting the day at 212.20 and ending roughly 10 points higher at 222.08.
Lynch said while snow conditions negatively impacted visitation at the company’s North American resorts, Vail Resorts’ season pass sales, which were up once again for 2023-24, helped to mitigate the impact of the slow start to the season.
“Despite the decline in season-to-date visitation relative to the prior year period, we are pleased with the strength in ancillary spending per visit across our ski school, rental, and dining businesses,” Lynch said.
The recent blasts of snow that some resorts in North America are seeing could improve things moving forward as well, Lynch said, acknowledging that with that snow came some problems with operations. Vail saw significant crowding over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, with 437 cars spilling out of the parking structures and onto South Frontage Road on Sunday, a significantly larger number of cars than was seen at any point during the period between the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. So far this season, Vail’s busiest day, according to car counts, came on Jan. 6 with 507 cars parked on South Frontage Road.
“The majority of our North American resorts experienced significant snowstorms leading up to and over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, which impacted the guest experience, but also led to recently improved conditions across our resorts,” Lynch said.