Posted on July 9th, 2013

Back to School – Ski Resorts

One of the great things about being based in Colorado is that we have access to a variety of natural playgrounds. And when the long summer days fade into fall and we have to put away our shorts, we know that ski season is just around the corner. For some people, a couple weekends a season is enough, and for others, it is an addiction, much like a cup of joe to start the day (and then there’s Brock who has never been…). Although the numbers fluctuate every season, there are roughly 25 active ski resorts in Colorado alone, not to mention the endless amounts of backcountry skiing available for free (hiking included!). Throughout the United States, there are nearly 500 active ski areas. But is this enough? In the late 80s there were well over 600 areas open, though economic issues, access issues, facility and amenity issues forced many into the abyss. So how does one decide when and where a ski resort would thrive?

rockies_ski_areas
Active ski resorts in the Rocky Mountain region during the 2006-2007 ski season.

Researchers at the University of Delaware set out to find out what works and what doesn’t. The first major ski resort was Sun Valley in Idaho established in 1936. Where should the next one be? The researchers built a model that considered states that reside in the Rocky Mountain range: New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. The model’s purpose is to predict where the next best location, all things considered, should be.

There were many considerations that went into the model. Of significance was the annual estimated snowfall. Resorts in the Rocky Mountain region receive just shy of 300 inches of snowfall each season. And while there are manmade options for adding and grooming snow, most skiers will tell you that they prefer the real stuff, unadulterated by humans. Another consideration that was of paramount interest in their design was the potential length of the season. Snow typically falls between September and May, but skiable days vary. Of the 85 resorts in their study, a calculation was done taking the mean number of days at or below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. This allowed them to then estimate the total skiable months.

western_ski_areasRocky Mountain regions and towns that fulfill criteria for ski areas.

Two other conditions of significance were the proximity to U.S. forest land, and accessibility for skiers. The agency currently permits resorts on 62 national forest in 18 states, with flexible 40-year leases that are adjustable based on environmental concerns and/or needs. Neighboring population centers of at least 10,000 inhabitants were considered to be the minimum number for resort longevity. Drive-time to airports was also considered, being that the resorts would greatly benefit from skiers traveling from nearby metropolitan areas, as well as national and international travelers. The mean travel time for the resorts in the study was 55 minutes. Finally, competition was also considered. While a potential resort area might meet all of the requirements for a successful ski area, if they are in a saturated region, then their prognosis for long-term success is greatly diminished.

The study chose Dayton, WY as the best location for a future resort based on the four major criteria. Just south of the Montana border in the central part of the state, it is a smaller area, but if the ski industry were to build there, the authors estimate that the area could “boom” much like the days of gold and silver mining. Dayton is less than 2 hours south of Billings, MT, and would shave over an hour of the commute time to current ski resorts for people from that city of over 100,000 inhabitants. So will we see skiing near Dayton anytime soon? It could be beneficial to Wyoming, bringing in more tourism dollars, and perhaps more residents to the least-populated state in the country. I would love to ride first chair if it happens…

Justin Harmon
Staff Writer

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