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Vail Resorts reports 7.8% drop in skier visits

'Visitation at Whistler Blackcomb remained below expectations'
Poor conditions led to lower-than-expected skier visits at Whistler Blackcomb in 2023-24. Pictured is the foot of Whistler Mountain on Jan. 4, 2024.

Visitation at Whistler Blackcomb was lower than expected this year, but lift-ticket revenues for parent company Vail Resorts still saw a slight bump.

In a release on April 19, the ski-company behemoth gave some insight into the season to date.

According to the release, Vail Resorts saw 7.8-per-cent fewer skier visits from April 16, 2023 to April 14 of this year. Season-to-date total lift ticket revenue, however, was up 3.2 per cent; ski school revenue up 7 per cent; and dining revenue up 2.4 per cent.

Retail/rental revenue for North American resort and ski area store locations was down 7.1 per cent, the release said. 

"Given the unfavourable conditions across our North American resorts for a large portion of the season, we are pleased with our overall results as the 2023-24 North American ski season nears completion, highlighting the stability provided by our season pass program and the investments we have made in our resorts and employees," said Kirsten Lynch, Vail Resorts' chief executive officer, in the release.

"While visitation declined, our lift revenue increased driven by the growth in pass sales committed ahead of the season, and our ancillary businesses performed well, with particularly strong growth in spending per visit in our ski and ride school, dining, and rental businesses compared to the same period in the prior year. The results throughout the 2023-24 North American ski season demonstrate the resiliency of our strategic business model and our network of resorts and loyal guests."

The numbers all around were bolstered by vastly improved conditions in March and April, and visitation largely returned as expected to normal historical guest behaviour for the spring.

"However, lift ticket visitation did not return to normal historical guest behaviour, primarily at Whistler Blackcomb, which was down significantly relative to the prior year period," Lynch said. "As noted in the March earnings release, the challenging early season conditions at Whistler Blackcomb and our Tahoe resorts persisted through early March. When conditions improved, visitation at our Tahoe resorts responded as expected, however visitation at Whistler Blackcomb remained below expectations."

While late season results improved, Vail Resorts was projecting to finish the year at the low end of its earlier spring projections, "primarily driven by Whistler Blackcomb performance in the March and April period," Lynch said. "Our strong season pass sales results, prior to the start of this season, greatly mitigated the impact of the unfavourable conditions that existed across our North American resorts for a large portion of the season, highlighting the stability created by our advance commitment strategy."

Vail Resorts and Whistler Blackcomb are now turning their attention to spring operations and future pass sales.

"To date, through the April deadline, we have seen a modest decline in pass product units and growth in sales dollars," Lynch said. "The April sales deadline only impacts a portion of our renewing pass holders that are eligible for buddy ticket benefits, and we will have more to share in our third quarter earnings release in June 2024."

The final day for skiing and riding Whistler this season is May 20 (conditions permitting).