The Ridiculously Resilient Ridge and its Crushing Impact on California Ski Resorts

 

Who is Andy?

Andrew “Andy” Wirth is the current CEO of Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, which is the parent company of Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows ski resorts in Olympic Valley, California. Utilizing over 25 years of mountain resort and hotel industrial work, he renovated the infrastructure and base area facilities and signed off on 70 million dollars in company upgrades. According to Wirth, “Squaw Valley moved from the bottom 20 percent of ski resorts into the top 20 percent over the year” due to customer satisfaction rates increasing under his management. In addition to tremendous business success, he was awarded the Chairman’s Outstanding Service Award from the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority Board of Trustees in 2012. Recently, he was recognized as Citizen of the Year by Disabled Sports USA in 2014, reinforcing his positive reputation.

The Big Question

The distressing topic, How will The Drought Affect California Ski Resorts? was addressed by the California radio station KCRW in the program entitled “Press Play with Madeleine Brand.” From the title, it is difficult to understand the impact a drought would have on a California ski resort if you are not in California or do not visit ski resorts in California; however, after listening to the audio program, Madeleine allows a multitude of listeners to be a part of the conversation and not only allows you to understand the significance the drought has had on Californian citizens, but also the impact it has had on ski resorts in the regions it effected.

Madeleine begins the program by mentioning the fact that Californians are forced to cut down their water usage by 27%, which is considerably lower than the recorded water usage two years prior to the drought. She states that the drought that has occurred is not only a large issue to Californian citizens, but the drought can affect large businesses such as ski resorts. In fact, she mentions that ski resorts in California have suffered greatly from the drought, stating that ski resorts are in their “driest winter in recorded history”—which forced many resorts to end their season early. Madeleine poses the question that perhaps many ski resort owners and businessmen alike want to know: What can Californian ski resorts do when faced with complications amplified by a drought?

The Drought and Winter

Brand turns to Andy Wirth, CEO of Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, for answers. She begins by asking a simple, yet relevant question: “How was your winter?” To this, Wirth answers with confidence, “it was tough.” He even chimes in by using the drought’s nickname, stating that meteorologists are calling the drought a “ridiculously resilient ridge.” He states the complications that arose due to the drought did have an impact on his business, mentioning the fact that ski visits were only 20% lower than last year; however, indicates that the drought did not halt his overall success.

When asked, “How many winters could his ski resort survive?” He replies, “An infinite number of them.” Wirth believes that his capital structure is solid enough to withstand any number of winters. Although, he wishes that conditions were as favorable as it would have been on an average year, but says that his ski business will remain profitable due to alternate opportunities that the business can explore.

Opportunistic Approach to Business is Key

To Wirth, taking advantage of opportunities is key to the success of his ski resort, especially when facing adverse weather conditions. He states that with a total of 6,000 acres, only 4,000 acres were utilized during the drought; but assured madeleine and listeners that the 4,000 acres can still provide more than enough skiing to be enjoyed by visitors. In addition, during the months of December and January, drought conditions were favorable enough to utilize artificially made snow.

The Future of Ski Resorts

When prompted with the idea of ski resorts potentially becoming extinct within the next 20 years, Wirth believes that he and many ski resort owners try to enhance their businesses by building their business models around summer visitations, summer activities, and events. As a businessman, he feels that it is of great importance for him to understand the relevance of meteorology and how his prior work as a resource manager can ultimately leave a positive legacy.