Those who booked in advance, such as vacationers from Mexico and Asia, were out in force during the holiday week, said Dlouhy. Still, he said, his business is down about 30 percent from last year.
The lack of snow is affecting skiers in Michigan, as well. Bruce Noren, co-owner of the Big Powderhorn Mountain Resort in Bessemer, Mich., says his clients, mostly from Wisconsin and Chicago, want to see snow.
“If they don’t have snow at home, they don’t think about coming,” Noren says. “We saw lighter holiday traffic because of the weather. We opened later than normal, and we opened on man-made snow, which is quite unusual for us.”
Noren says it's too early to tell if the season can be saved, but the holidays typically represent 30 percent of his business. “Our marketing effort will support any additional snow to try and bring in the extra traffic, but whether we can catch up is yet to be seen.”
In the East, a mid-autumn storm brought the promise of an early winter and a strong start for at least one ski shop, before the brakes hit in December.
“We had very strong pre-season sales, which began August 1 and went through Thanksgiving,” says Victoria Profetta, president of The Ski Company in Bloomfield, N.Y. A mild December, however, slowed sales. It’s something the company, which has been in business for 30 years, has seen before.
“We’ve seen snowy seasons and not-so-snowy seasons,” says Profetta. Preparing for a mild winter is as important for a ski-related business as it is for the average person to prepare for a blizzard, she notes.
"To get through the lean times, you need to keep everything in check; make sure everything is paid up and that you don't fall behind."
And while she says they can’t catch up entirely from December, she still expects strong sales, since more than 40 percent of sales during the season typically are generated after Christmas. As long as winter arrives.
“For some businesses there is time to still catch up,” Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association, says, adding that colder temperatures and snowfall in some areas are making a good season still possible. “If the weather continues we might not set records with volume, but we could still do well from a cash-flow end. The likelihood of meeting cash objectives is still out there, even for the small operators.”
Doug Miller isn’t taking any chances. While colder weather earlier this week allowed him to start making snow, his complex also consists of a golf dome. During the holiday week between Christmas and New Year’s, his slopes were bare, but he was busy.
“People might not be able to use the skis they got for Christmas, but they have an itch and they were here to use those new golf clubs instead.”