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Summer tourism proves lucrative for winter mountain resorts
Jun 12

By MEGAN SWIFT, Tribune-Review

SEVEN SPRINGS, Pa. (AP) _ While mountain resorts are primarily known for picturesque skiing and snowboarding during winter months, summer tourism can be just as lucrative for business.

For more than 20 years, Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Somerset County has offered ``Summer Adventures'' to offseason guests, which include attractions such as the Alpine Slide, Alpine Tower, chairlift rides, rock wall and paddle boarding, among others.

This summer, Seven Springs also added the Foggy Goggle Axe House for axe throwing and the Trampoline Thing for guests to jump and flip up to 24 feet in the air. Another new attraction is Seven Springs Gem Mining, featuring geology and nature lessons where amethyst, rose quartz, emerald and other crystals can be found using a sifting tray in the sluice.

``There's been a concerted effort here to not allow this place to (look like) a closed ski resort in the summer,'' said Alex Moser, the resort's director of marketing and communications. ``I hope we're going to be a nice alternative for a quick, last-minute summer getaway.''

According to Moser, Seven Springs' summer revenue exceeded winter the past few years _ except for in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic.

``Summer does make up a large portion of income for the resort,'' Moser said, ``but it's not that summer supports winter or winter supports summer. It doesn't work like that.''

In addition to Adventures offerings, which opened this year May 28, Moser said conferences, weddings, reunions and festivals are integral parts of what make summers so lucrative for Seven Springs.

Linda Irvin, executive director of the Pennsylvania Ski Areas Association, said it's often necessary for mountain resorts to work toward operating all year.

``If you look at most Pennsylvania ski areas, a majority of them are year-round (businesses) now _ 20 years ago, that was not the case,'' Irvin said. ``I think that more and more people look for outdoor adventures, so ski areas and mountains are a natural place to look for it.''

Irvin said another advantage to increased summer business lies within resorts' employees.

``I think it's important to be able to groom and mold and grow your staff,'' Irvin said. ``To do that, it often takes a year-round job opportunity.''

Seven Springs is the region's largest employer with its three properties, according to Moser, so it values year-round business.

``We don't take that lightly,'' Moser said. ``(We) want to keep people working because we know it's good for the region.''

Seven Springs, Hidden Valley and Laurel Mountain resorts collectively employed 2,100 in February 2020, Moser said. By last March, only 42 staff members remained.

``The pandemic completely killed (our) business,'' Moser said. ``It was scary. I was grateful I was one of the 42.''

Though the pandemic was ``quite painful'' without conferences, weddings or reunions, Seven Springs was busy again by last fall, Moser said.

``We sold out every weekend in October last year,'' Moser said. ``People just wanted to get away and get into fresh air.''

According to Moser, the resort has 65 weddings booked this summer, compared to over 100 weddings two years ago. Almost all employees have returned.

Irvin said even though the exact figures haven't been released, she predicts Pennsylvania had a ``record season in skier visits'' over the past year.

``People are staying close to home. They're looking for outdoor activities, things where they feel safe, and I think the ski areas have provided that for them,'' Irvin said.

From December 2020 to March 2021, Irvin said Pennsylvania's skier visits were ``definitely above 2. million.'' A visit is counted with each ticket purchase.

`Best kept secret'

Coronavirus also affected business for Peek'n Peak Resort, about 30 minutes east of Erie in Chautauqua County, N.Y., according to Carolyn Tome, a marketing coordinator for Scott Enterprises, which owns and operates the property.

``Last year was a little slower because of restrictions, and (people were) less willing to travel,'' Tome said. ``(However), we still had a pretty solid crowd last year. because people did see it as a nice, safe getaway.''

Tome said even though the resort put in ``a lot of effort'' to make the environment safe for guests, she expects to see more growth this year as apprehensive regulars begin to return.

Similar to Seven Springs, Peek'n Peak offers summer programs and activities, including a ropes course, ziplines, Segway tours and golf, as well as a spa and pools.

The winter season still is more lucrative for Peek'n Peak, Tome said, even with many conferences, weddings and events held during the summer.

``As we've added more throughout the summer, we've been able to draw a larger audience,'' Tome said, ``(but) winter is definitely our peak busy season.''

In Pocahontas County, W.Va., Snowshoe Mountain Resort is known for summer mountain biking, hosting the only Mountain Bike World Cup stop in the United States, resort spokesman Shawn Cassell said.

Snowshoe offers a ``variety'' of activities in the summer _ even more than in the winter, Cassell said. That includes canoeing, paddle boards and hiking, Segway tours, all-terrain vehicles, golf and music events.

He attributed the resort's focus on increased summer business to climate change, which he believes is the ski industry's ``biggest threat'' in the region.

``Snowshoe's best kept secret is the summertime. We're just trying to get the secret out,'' Cassell said. ``It would be a fantastic summer if we had half the people we (get) in the wintertime.''

Summer opportunities

Last ski season, there were 470 ski areas open in 37 states, the National Ski Areas Association says. That includes 26 in Pennsylvania. Collectively, ski areas lost $2 billion in the 2019-20 season after the covid pandemic forced 93% of them to close early.

Though summer business is profitable for some resorts, others close after skiing ends, according to Adrienne Isaac, a spokeswoman for the Colorado-based organization.

For the 2019-20 ski season, which included the summer before the pandemic and last year's ``prematurely shortened'' season, summer business made up 11% of total revenue for mountain resorts nationally, the association reported. This percentage has increased ``slightly'' over the past 10 years, Isaac said.

That percentage is nearly 20% in the NSAA's southeast region, which includes Seven Springs, Isaac said.

Isaac also noted concern for the effects of climate change on mountain resorts. Opening year-round could ``mitigate some of the business effects,'' she said.

``There are successful ski areas that focus solely on winter business and adjust their overall strategies accordingly,'' Isaac said. ``But summer activities and events can be a tremendous opportunity for a ski area if it fits in their business plan.''

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Pennsylvania ranks as one of the top states in the U.S. with ski areas in operation.

1. New York _ 51

2. Michigan _ 40

3. Colorado _ 31

4. Wisconsin _ 31

5. California _ 30

6. New Hampshire _ 30

7. Pennsylvania _ 26

Source: National Ski Areas Association

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By The Associated Press, Copyright 2021

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