The numbers for the 2019/20 snow sports season are not in yet, but it was not good apparently, partly because it was cut short by the coronavirus epidemic. However, the 2018/19 season was the best in 20 years or more in terms of visits to the ski resorts, according to the newly published 12th edition of the International Report on Snow & Mountain Tourism compiled every year by Laurent Vanat. Despite adverse conditions faced by the ski industry, such as climate change and increasing competition, traffic on the snow slopes grew around the world for the third season in a row, demonstrating the resilience of the sector, which has indirectly benefitted the ski industry.

In particular, during the 2018/19 winter, ski areas in the U.S. had excellent snow conditions and performed well above average, placing the country back on top of the podium on a global basis. The number of visitors was the fourth best in the past 41 years. Along with good snow conditions, another factor that contributed to the country’s performance was the spread of discounted multi-resort seasonal passes.

This trend, together with dynamic pricing, has now reached Europe, introducing an element of disruption in the traditional business model of the industry. In particular, the Magic Pass in Switzerland has largely contributed to a recovery in attendance at resorts in the country. Meanwhile, the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia are featuring some examples of interactive customer relationship management systems.

China saw a large development of ski training centers including ski simulators, dry slopes and a growing number of indoor ski halls. However, Vanat’s report states that the industry in China still needs to mature and has not yet found the ideal way to introduce beginners to skiing with a high rate of customer satisfaction that would generate a high level of returning guests. Nevertheless, the Chinese ski industry managed to sustain its growth, leading it to pass the 20-million skier visits mark in the 2018/19 season.

Elsewhere in Asia, Japan and South Korea had lower attendance. Europe, Iceland and Scotland also experienced very poor winter seasons, due to bad weather conditions and lack of snow.

There are currently 68 countries in the world that offer equipped outdoor ski areas. Of the 2,084 ski resorts worldwide, more than one third (37%) are in the Alps, followed in terms of geographical distribution by the Americas at 21 percent, and the Asia-Pacific region at 19 percent. The Alps are also the most intensely equipped region of the industry, with 38 percent of the world’s 25,857 ski-lifts.

The countries with the largest number of ski resorts in the world are the U.S., Japan, France and Italy. Out of the 52 major ski resorts, 80 percent are situated in the Alps, 14 percent in the Americas and 6 percent in Western Europe. While they are geographically part of Western Europe, the Alpine countries are treated as a separate group in Vanat’s annual report, due to their importance in terms of market share. This group of countries includes Austria, France, Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Slovenia.

Ski Arlberg in Austria, La Plagne in France and Campiglio Dolomiti di Brenta in Italy were the world’s strongest resorts in terms of annual visits, all topping the 2.0 million mark.

Overall, the Alps were the biggest ski destination in the world during the 2018/19 season, attracting 43 percent of visits by skiers from any part of the world. The second biggest destination was the Americas, mostly North America, capturing 21 percent of skier visits worldwide. In terms of foreign tourists, France, the U.S. and Spain were the countries that attracted the largest numbers of skiers.

The report pointed to the end of the reduction of skier visits in western European countries outside the Alpine region, with even a sustained growing trend in Scandinavia and in the southern hemisphere. These factors contributed to make the 2018/19 season the best of the new millennium.

The international flow of skiers are primarily concentrated within Europe, and the number of skiers using long-haul flights to go skiing is rather small. Worldwide, from a global perspective, the share of visitors at ski resorts from foreign countries is limited to about 12 percent of the total. The two major outbound markets are Germany and the U.K. The number of Russian visitors has fallen sharply since 2014.

With the addition of Nepal, Laurent Vanat’s authoritative report covers a total of 72 countries around the world. His very detailed 226-page report can be accessed here.

Photo: © Toa Heftiba on Unsplash