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Ski NH says number of visitors down slightly, but still remaining at historic highs

Union Leader Correspondent

June 05. 2014 8:19PM
Jason Stadler of Alpina Sports/Elan of Lebanon, on Thursday displays some of the footwear and skis that will be available for cross-country and downhill skiers this coming season. Stadler's company is one of dozens that is exhibiting their products and services at the 21st Ski NH annual meeting which is taking place through Friday at Loon Mountain Resort. (JOHN KOZIOL/Union Leader Correspondent)

LINCOLN — Despite a slight dip compared to a year ago, the New Hampshire ski industry is continuing to ride a decade-long uptick in visitors on average, according to Ski NH, which on Thursday said nearly 2.5 million people came to its member resorts during the winter of 2013-2014.

Founded in 1991, Ski NH has 33 member resorts — 15 alpine and 18 Nordic — and also represents more than 200 lodging and guest-service properties in the Granite State.

On Thursday, Ski NH held its 21st annual meeting at Loon Mountain Resort and Karl Stone, the association’s longtime marketing director, delivered the news for which many of the attendees were waiting: Last season, members hosted 2,272,826 downhill riders, both skiers and snowboarders; 147,259 cross-country skiers; and 120,053 snow tubers.

The downhill number was down .2 percent compared to 2012-2013, yet it was still the sixth best season on record, said Stone, and was up 3.5 percent during the 10-year average.

The cross-country number was down 2.9 percent, but the number of snow tubers was up 6.2 percent, and both, Stone continued, were up significantly over the 10-year average, the former up by 10.4 percent, the latter by 10.8 percent.

Ben Wilcox, who is president of Ski NH and also president and general manager of Cranmore Mountain Resort, said the financial news has been good in 2014, beginning in February when the Institute for New Hampshire Studies at Plymouth State University issued a report that found the ski industry in 2012-2013 had a cumulative $1.5 billion impact on the New Hampshire economy.

He added that state ski resorts made $121 million worth of infrastructure improvements during the past five years, most of it in snowmaking equipment, summing up that, overall, “things are trending in the right direction.”

Nineteen percent of Ski NH’s winter guests, Wilcox said, “are now visiting us in the summer,” a point that Lori Harnois, who is director of the NH Division of Travel and Tourism Development, expanded upon later during the annual meeting.

Wilcox ended his remarks by thanking Alice Pearce, who was Ski NH’s founding executive director and who served until April before leaving to pursue other opportunities, and by welcoming Jessyca Keeler as Pearce’s successor.

Harnois provided an overview of the state’s tourism industry, noting that in fiscal 2013, 34 million visitors came to New Hampshire and collectively spent $4.6 billion. She added that tourism marketing — of the kind that the DTTD does with Ski NH — is a great investment, with each dollar spent bringing nine dollars back into the Granite State economy.

As to winter spending, Harnois said it was up in 2013, with the state’s total meals-and-rooms tax revenue up 3.4 percent but with the rooms portion up 6.1 percent by itself.

That increase, she explained, means that visitors are staying longer.

Harnois commended Ski NH members for expanding their mountains into year-round operations, saying some 14.9 million visitors, up 2 percent over 2013, were expected to come to New Hampshire this summer.

She added that studies of visitors have shown that they are “coming from a farther distance” than in the past and that her agency recently began wooing potential visitors in Canada with TV ads.

Another way to attract visitors, said Harnois, is through marketing at the two new rest areas under construction in Hooksett on Interstate 93. She said the state was working with Ski NH to develop a “concierge” service at the rest areas that would let visitors have their passes “in hand” before they actually arrived at the resorts.

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