Whistler Blackcomb saw lower-than-expected visitation over holiday period

Vail Resorts says results largely due to ‘weather variability’ and low traffic from destination and international visitors

Visitation to Whistler Blackcomb (WB) over the holiday period was below owner Vail Resorts’ expectations, according to a mid-season report by the Colorado-based ski-resort operator.

In a release sent to investors on Friday, Jan. 11, Vail Resorts said that results over the holidays at its roster of resorts met expectations—with the exception of WB and its Tahoe, Calif. properties, “primarily driven by increased weather variability at those resorts over the holidays and lower than expected destination and international visitation.”

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The season so far has been a tale of two forecasts in Whistler; for much of November, unseasonably warm weather had residents wondering when the ski season would finally get underway in earnest, while December saw a deluge of snow that ended up breaking the month’s historical snowfall record, with 384 centimetres. That broke the previous record of 380 cm, set in 1994.

The heavy snow also resulted in challenging road conditions, with several dumps throughout the month snarling traffic on the Sea to Sky Highway.

WB was further hampered by construction delays on its new Blackcomb Gondola, which was originally slated to launch in time for the Nov. 22 Opening Day, but was postponed until mid-December.

The sluggish results at WB comes as Vail Resorts saw its season-to-date skier visits increase by 16.9 per cent at its entire roster of North American properties compared to the same period last year. Total lift-ticket revenue across the company was also up for the season, by 12.2 per cent, while overall ski-school revenues rose 9.5 per cent, and dining revenues were up 14.8 per cent.

"It is great to see the growth across our business this season as we deliver excellent guest service at our resorts. Improved conditions across our western U.S. resorts helped drive a strong rebound in visitation and spending, particularly during the key holiday weeks,” said Rob Katz, Vail Resorts CEO, in the release.

Despite the conditions, however, destination guest visitation was “much lower” than anticipated in the pre-holiday period, Katz added, particularly between Dec. 1 and 21.

“We believe this was driven by destination guests' concerns from two prior years of poor pre-holiday conditions at our U.S. resorts and we did not see the pickup in short-term bookings we had expected,” Katz noted.

Whistler Blackcomb’s record-breaking winter in 2017-18 was largely credited for bolstering Vail Resorts’ strong end to the season, which was impacted by historically low snowfall to star the winter at its western U.S. resorts.

After falling short on its expectations for the season so far, Katz said the company expects its full-year resort-reported EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Tax, Depreciation and Amortization) to be “slightly below” its earlier predictions of US$718 million to US$750 million.

Vail Resorts’ shares fell by 13 per cent on Friday morning after the news was announced. At press time, Vail Resorts’ shares were trading more than 38 per cent below the company’s 52-week high of US$302.76.

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