Oregon's ski-snowboard industry carves out a $482 million impact

EUGENE, Ore. — (Feb. 5, 2013) — Snowboarders and skiers love pursuing their outdoor fixes in Oregon's pristine mountains. All those turns delivered $482 million in economic impacts across the state in 2010-2011, according to a report prepared by the University of Oregon. The industry contributed 6,772 jobs and $194 million in personal income.

Snowboarder in actionThose conclusions are in the "Oregon Skier Profile and Economic Impact Analysis," which was prepared for Ski Oregon by the Community Planning Workshop, a program of the University of Oregon-based Community Service Center.

The analysis is the first for the industry in 23 years. The last report in 1989 had estimated an economic impact of $152 million from the skiing industry. Since that time, snowboarding has risen in popularity. The new report drew from a survey of 874 skiers and/or snowboarders at the state's 12 ski areas based at community ski hills, public lands and destination resorts.

Researchers considered where money is spent — on the mountains, in hosting communities and along routes skiers take to their destinations — and details about skiers and snowboarders, including the experiences they desire. These outdoor enthusiasts average 68 miles of one-way travel to reach their destinations, the report found.

"The impacts are just not at the resorts," said co-author Robert Parker, director of the UO's Community Planning Workshop. "They affect virtually every community in the state as people are traveling to their destinations. With the diversity of ski locations, the industry continues to have huge economic impacts on the state, and it still has a lot of room for growth."

Slalom skier goes airborne in OregonSki Oregon, a statewide marketing organization, had sought updated information to provide a foundation to help fuel ongoing efforts to enhance the industry, said Brian Reed, president of Ski Oregon and director of marketing for Timberline Lodge and Ski Area on Mt. Hood. "We view ourselves as an economic engine for the state. This report is a great enhancement to the data that had existed in the previous report. The new report shows continual growth, and it points out that we're still extremely viable and strong," he said.

The ski and snowboarding experience in Oregon is unique in that all but one of the state's main ski areas are located on public lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service, said report co-author Madeline Phillips of the Community Service Workshop. "Overwhelmingly, Oregon skiers agree that the use of public land as a ski resort is a positive experience. Oregon skiers want a pure ski experience," she said. "Rather than being interested in base-camp experiences, they are more interested in getting out into the wilderness."

Skiers and snowboarders find that Oregon and the Pacific Northwest offer the longest seasons of any region of the country. Per visit, participants averaged $89 of purchases on and off the mountains. That payoff, Parker said, translates into retail transactions, restaurant purchases and lodging income. The majority of visits are by outdoor enthusiasts on day trips.

Destination skiers — those who spend overnights at a resort or hotels in nearby communities — account for just 22 percent of visits, but their spending averages $300 per day, pouring $123 million into the state's economy, according to the report.

Respondents in the study mirrored a national trend of aging skiers as noted in a recent National Ski Area Association study; more than half of Oregon skiers reported having more than 20 years of experience, and 75 percent indicated that they were intermediate, advanced or expert skiers. Some 24 percent of Oregon skiers said they also rode snowboards. The survey also found rising interest in cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

"One of the unique things about skiing in Oregon is that Timberline offers the only accommodations that are at a resort," Parker said. "That's substantially different than most of the major ski locations, such as those in Colorado, California and Washington. Instead of having resort communities, we have gateway communities — Oakridge, Bend, Sandy, Hood River, for example. Because these communities are gateways, a fair amount of the economic activity ends up impacting them in substantial ways."

Oregon's winter sports enthusiasts, noted Phillips, find traveling onto pristine public lands to be a draw. "Some of the greatest snowfalls nationally in the last seven years have happened in the Pacific Northwest," she added. "We have major winter events that extend our season."

Last season didn't bloom at most Oregon ski areas until after the December holiday season. However, Reed said, the state's industry recovered nicely with skiers on the mountains well after many other states, such as Colorado, had closed their seasons early because of lack of snow.

Phillips called last year's national ski season the worst since 1992. In contrast, Pacific Northwest Ski Area reports show an overall increase of 24.7 percent in December skier visits over the same month last year. Clearly, overall, this season started much better for many resorts, especially those in Oregon.

"We're an industry that is at the whim of Mother Nature, and we do have to deal with that in the success or lack of success in any given year," Reed said. "What's interesting for Oregon is that unlike many other regions of the U.S., we have so many rural day-use ski areas that are embedded in local communities. These have not been as heavily dependent on destination-based travel, which I think are more highly altered by poor weather conditions."

Ski Oregon's website notes that the state has "more than 16,000 acres of skiing, 400 runs, 71 ski lifts, 13 terrain parks, snow-cat skiing and around 400 inches of snowfall annually."

The report notes multiple opportunities for growth, including the expansion of summer-use recreational activities at locations now on Forest Service lands and increased manufacturing of equipment and apparel. Specific economic impacts from manufacturing were not directly tracked in the new report, Parker said, because in-state manufacturers sold their products nationally.

The report was funded by Ski Oregon, Travel Oregon and a U.S. Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration grant to establish a University Center at the UO. The University Center is an economic development program of the UO Community Service Center.

The full report is available on the Ski Oregon website.

About the University of Oregon
The University of Oregon is among the 108 institutions chosen from 4,633 U.S. universities for top-tier designation of "Very High Research Activity" in the 2010 Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. The UO also is one of two Pacific Northwest members of the Association of American Universities.

Media Contact: Jim Barlow, director of science and research communications, 541-346-3481, jebarlow@uoregon.edu

Sources: Robert "Bob" Parker, director of the Community Service Center, 541-346-3801; Madeline Phillips, project research assistant, Community Service Center, mphilli7@uoregon.edu; and Brian Reed, president of Ski Oregon, info@skioregon.org.

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