California Drought and Ski Resorts

Press Play with Madeleine Brand sat down with Andy Wirth to discuss “How will the Drought affect California Ski Resorts?”

Andy Wirth is currently the President and CEO of Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, the parent company of Squaw Valley Ski Corporation and Alpine Meadows of Tahoe, Inc. ski resorts in Olympic Valley, CA. He also serves as the Chief Executive Officer for both companies as well as President of Squaw Valley Ski. He has over 24 years of experience in marketing and sales for ski resorts between Colorado and California. In his personal life, Wirth is known for fundraising for the Navy Seals Foundation, which provides assistance to an elite special warfare group and their families.

Madeleine started their conversation by asking how this last Winter was for the ski resorts. Andy Wirth acknowledged the concerning weather patterns in California recently. This was one of the driest winters in recorded history, and saw many resorts have been closing early. Wirth says this winter was “certainly a tough one.” At the end of the season, visitor numbers were down by about twenty percent.

Despite this, Wirth remains optimistic for the coming years. While profits were down, the company still made money. He pointed that about 2,000 acres of the resort was unable to be used for skiing, but that is out of a total of 6,000. “Even with 4,000 acres people can still do quite a bit of great skiing… We can certainly survive.” So the entire park doesn’t need to be open for skiers to have fun, but what if the Winter season continues to grow shorter and warmer?

Wirth says he sees the increased volatility of weather and climate, and is ready to adjust his business model accordingly. “We have become very good at using science to make snow.” This allows resorts to have usable ski paths even when precipitation levels are low, or when the snow is melting faster. In addition, resorts are focusing more on scheduling events during the warm season. Businesses hold meetings at resorts during the Summer, and people can even book weddings or attend special events like the Iron Man competition Wirth participates in to raise money for his charity.

Certainly the changing climate is having an impact on ski resorts in California and elsewhere. However, the resorts are prepared to do whatever they can to keep skiing an annual hobby for eager enthusiasts. As to whether these companies will be able to keep up with what seems so be an increasingly hot and dry climate remains to be seen, but Andy Wirth is confident in the future of ski resorts.