Economic Impact of Ski Industry in North Carolina Almost $200M for 2014-15

Published Thursday, November 19, 2015 at 12:15 pm
Sugar Mountain Resort had a packed house of journalists, ski industry stakeholders and community members at the press conference on Wednesday.

Sugar Mountain Resort had a packed house of journalists, ski industry stakeholders and community members at the press conference on Wednesday.

By Jesse Wood

The ski industry had a whopping economic impact of $197.2 million last winter, the N.C. Ski Areas Association announced on Wednesday in the Last Run Lounge at Sugar Mountain Resort.

This announcement was part of a presentation by Dave Belin, a consultant with RRC Associates, which was commissioned by the association to conduct an economic value analysis of the industry in Western North Carolina.

“The GDP of North Carolina would be $197 million less if it wasn’t for the ski industry,” said Belin, director of consulting services for RRC Associates, which publishes reports for the National Ski Areas Association, Kottke End of Season Report, National Demographic Study and the Economic Analysis of U.S. Ski Areas.

According to the study, the total economic value of nearly $200 million was derived from $119.5 million in direct value and $77.7 million in indirect or induced value – or “ripple effects” – for the 2014-15 winter season.

Last season, the six ski resorts in North Carolina – Appalachian Ski Mtn., Beech Mountain, Sugar Mountain, Wolf Ridge, Catalooche and Sapphire Valley – recorded 653,654 visits, an uptick of 7.5 percent, and nearly $40 million in revenue, compared to $35 million last year.

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In describing the importance of the industry on the economy, Belin noted that attendance at the resorts was higher than at the eight Charlotte Panthers home football games, 41 Carolina Hurricanes hockey matches and 41 Charlotte Hornets basketball games.

As Belin said, the industry in Western North Carolina is “bucking the trend” with increasing attendance. In the 2013-14 season, 607,969 ski resort visits were recorded in North Carolina. But the local total is still lower than the peak of 671,554 in the 2009-10 winter.

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While state resorts saw a 7.5 percent increase in visits over last year, national ski resort visits declined 5.2 percent to 53.6 million visits, partly due to the number of skiing days declining because of weather. North Carolina remained an outlier when looking at broader regions across the country which all saw declining attendance last year.

“Overall, it was an up and down year depending on how you want to look at it,” Belin said.

Other numbers thrown out at the presentation: The six resorts employee 87 year-round employees and 1,787 seasonal employees.

Last year, ski resorts spent $8,493,000 on capital expenditures. Leading the way in resort improvements this year was Sugar Mountain Resort. Just this past weekend, Gov. Pat McCrory attended the ribbon cutting of Sugar’s new Summit Express, a $5-million high speed, detachable, six-passenger chairlift that takes 2,518 people from the base to the top in about one hour.

Beech Mountain Resort and Appalachian Ski Mtn. also made a number of notable improvements, including ASM’s new visitor center that is currently being constructed off of U.S. 321 and Beech Mountain Resort adding snow tubing, among other improvements.

The study also documented the gross revenue from lodging operations during the winter months of November to March and compared that to the annual lodging revenue, marking just how vital the skiing economy is on the local areas in the winter.

Lodging operations at the Village of Sugar Mountain grossed $3.2 million in lodging revenues, and 80 percent of those revenues occurred during the winter months. Beech Mountain had $3 million in lodging revenues with 71 percent of that processed in the winter.

 

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These percentages show just how much skiing operations support the local economy base during the winter months. This is compared to Blowing Rock and Boone, which had $4 million and $6 million in lodging revenues in those winter months, yet those revenues only accounted for 25 and 33 percent of annual revenues last year.

In his presentation, Belin said that 87 percent of survey respondents for the survey noted that skiing or snowboarding was their primary reason for travelling to the area.

Nearly 60 percent of those visiting stayed over night, while 31 percent were daytrippers. The rest were considered local. The study estimated that folks spent $182.84 per person during excursions to the resorts.

Among those attending the press conference: Ryan Costin, general manager at Beech Mountain Resort; the Moretz family at Appalachian Ski Mountain; hosts Kim and Gunther Jochl at Sugar Mountain Resort; and Whit Tuttell, executive director of the N.C. Department of Commerce’s Visit North Carolina.

With the mountains and the beaches, North Carolina ranks sixth among most visited states in the United States. It is currently 10th in the state for population. As for skiing visits, North Carolina ranks 18th nationally among the 37 states with ski areas.

“We’re pleased to see the economic impact and job support numbers grow from the 2009-2010 season,” Tuttell said. “The ski industry is vital to tourism in the Western part of our state and truly helps make North Carolina a year-round travel destination. We all know nothing compares to our six ski areas when it comes to winter destinations in the Southeast.”

Belin also noted the intangible benefits that weren’t calculated in dollar figures, such as wellness and other quality of life measures associated with ski resorts. Kim Jochl, who is also president of the N.C. Ski Areas Association, alluded to this during her opening statement at the press conference on Wednesday:

“When the world was created, North Carolina’s Appalachian Mountains received special consideration…the highest mountains east of the Rockies, temperatures cold enough for snowmaking, incredible scenery…and some of the friendliest folks in the world. North Carolina snowsports are more than numbers and studies. We’re a group of people who are passionate about winter fun,” Jochl said.

The study was based on nearly 2,000 surveys at five of the state’s ski resorts. Sapphire Valley didn’t participate in the study. View the entire report here. 

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Whit Tuttle, executive director of the N.C. Department of Commerce’s Visit North Carolina (left), Dave Belin, director of consulting services with RRC Associates, talked about the economic analysis of the study, and Kim Jochl, co-owner of Sugar Mountain Resort and president of N.C. Ski Areas Association.

Whit Tuttle, executive director of the N.C. Department of Commerce’s Visit North Carolina

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Dave Belin, director of consulting services with RRC Associates, talked about the economic analysis of the study.

Dave Belin, director of consulting services with RRC Associates, talked about the economic analysis of the study.

Kim Jochl opened the press conference. While she is co-owner of Sugar Mountain Resort, she's also the president of the N.C. Ski Areas Association.

Kim Jochl opened the press conference. While she is co-owner of Sugar Mountain Resort, she’s also the president of the N.C. Ski Areas Association.

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