The lack of snow so far this winter is hurting the Mt. Bachelor ski area, but the impact on tourism-driven businesses has not been as widespread as one might think, according to an annual survey of area lodgings.
That’s because in early winter, the holidays and school vacations play a large role in travel, said Alana Hughson, CEO of the Central Oregon Visitors Association. That was reflected in the association’s annual survey of member lodgings’ occupancy and revenue for the Christmas-New Year’s Day travel period, which started Dec. 22. Occupancy at hotels and motels was down, but at vacation rentals and destination resorts, occupancy was either level with last year or up slightly, she said.
The association polled 100 members via email and phone and received responses from 60 percent of them. The lodgings simply report whether occupancy and revenue are up or down from the same period last year.
“Weather was certainly a factor,” Hughson said. “We had not had new snow for several weeks before the Christmas holiday period.”
Vacation rentals and resorts didn’t feel the impact because they generally require advance deposits and are booked farther in advance, she said. Those visitors will come even when skiing conditions are poor, she said. “They’re still here and enjoying the holiday together.”
Sunriver Brewing pub manager Colin Gladden saw a strong holiday travel pattern play out in Sunriver.
“As much as we were scared at the lack of snow this year, we saw a pretty sizable increase in business over years prior,” he said. “I definitely saw more people through the doors of my restaurant here than I had the previous winter.”
Gladden said Sunriver Brewing’s pub on NW Galveston Avenue in Bend also has been busy. All of the restaurants in Bend were so busy over the holidays, he said, and Sunriver Brewing’s Bend customers were enduring 90-minute waits.
Now that the holiday travel period is over, Gladden is hoping for snow right along with the ski industry. Mt. Bachelor ski area is the single-largest winter tourism draw, and its peak payroll is around 800 people, the ski area general manager said.
“What’s it going to be like when there’s no holiday, and kids are in school and the mountain doesn’t have snow?” Gladden said. “The bigger worry is going to be what happens in the last three weeks of January.”
Mt. Bachelor general manager John McLeod said he’s expecting better conditions in the next few weeks. “At this point, 50 inches of snow would make a terrific difference for the mountain,” he said Wednesday.
The maximum depth of the snow base in December was 41 inches, the fifth-lowest base depth in 45 years, McLeod said. Because of the lack of snow, Mt. Bachelor has yet to run two of its lifts, Summit and Northwest. Crews have managed to keep terrain open by “snow farming,” which means they’re scooping it out of gullies and pockets and placing it in areas that need snow.
“We’re going everywhere we possibly can on the mountain with our equipment to dig snow out of those areas,” he said.
By the last week of December 2016, Mt. Bachelor was running all lifts and had 100 percent of its terrain open. The maximum base depth in December 2016 was 79 inches, according to data collected by www.onthesnow.com. For Jan. 12, 2017, Mt. Bachelor base depth measured 115 inches, according to onthesnow.com.
While snowstorms hampered commerce throughout the region last winter, McLeod said the weather didn’t deter skiers who had to navigate snow-covered roads.
“Last year was an epic year for us,” he said. “Lots of snow, lots of visitors.
“Anybody in Bend would say, ‘Let’s do that again,’” McLeod said. “Anybody who’s a skier anyway.”
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