If you want a business where you have a lot of control, here’s some advice:
Don’t operate a ski resort.
It’s too risky. Too dependent on the whims of Mother Nature. If you don’t have enough snow, or you get too much rain, or the winter’s too mild, you’re in trouble.
And then there are other variables to consider. If the economy’s bad, if people don’t see snow in their back yards, if gas prices/airline prices/lift tickets are too high, customers stay away. Add the short time frame in which you can make money, and it’s a wonder anyone succeeds.
Turning a profit is hard enough for a large resort with a lot of resources. But for smaller resorts — those who are teetering on the edge of solvency, anyway — a year with any of the above problems can be a disaster.
Recently I learned about three ski resorts on a downhill slide:
• Snö Mountain in Pennsylvania: Formerly known as Montage Mountain, Snö is scheduled to be sold at auction on July 17th. Things have not gone well for Snö. The mountain defaulted on a $5 million state loan in November, and had its power cut off by the local utility for three weeks in October. However, according to The Scranton Times-Tribune, Snö is hopeful it will be able to close a deal to refinance the property, obviating the need for the sale.
• Echo Mountain in Colorado: Despite record-breaking revenue this season, Echo will be on the auction block, too. Racebrook, a private equity firm, says it is putting the mountain up for auction “to focus on their other business ventures while ensuring a guaranteed date of sale, allowing the new owner time to prepare for the next winter season.”
• June Mountain in California: A sister to Mammoth Mountain, June has not made a profit in 26 years. The LA Times says the closure will give the company time to evaluate its future. From the LA Times article: Mammoth Mountain Ski Area has long had plans to expand June Mountain and add long runs to increase the popularity of the resort. But the resort operator says the plans were “never realized and June Mountain has, in turn, suffered from an identity crisis that has both stifled its ability to achieve its full potential and required substantial financial subsidy from Mammoth on an annual basis.”
Who’s to say that things won’t turn out for the best. Perhaps these mountains will be aquired by people with deep pockets and a strong commitment to the ski industry. Perhaps Snö will regroup. Perhaps Mammoth will reconsider. Still, it’d be a shame if these mountains joined the ranks of closed, or “lost” ski areas that have become a too common casualty of the ski industry (more on this here). Ascutney, a ski area not far from me here in Vermont, closed a couple years ago. So sad to go by and see it abandoned and unused.
My own private dream? To acquire one of these closed areas, rename it “Mount Diva,” and make it a mecca for women’s skiing. Who’s with me on this?