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Ski resorts are one of the main places people go for wintertime fun. Resorts offer skiing, snowboarding, equipment rentals and lessons. Many resorts also have concessions, a restaurant, a bar and other amenities.
Who is this business right for?
Someone with a diverse skill set and background in business may be well-suited for running a ski resort business. The multi-faceted nature of ski resorts requires knowledge of multiple aspects of running a business. For instance, running a ski resort business might encompass:
- maintaining lifts, vehicles, buildings and snow-making equipment
- making decisions about snowmaking and grooming
- managing a restaurant or bar (and a lodge for larger resorts)
- creating programs for lessons and racing leagues
What happens during a typical day at a ski resort?
During the winter season, there are many day-to-day activities that must be done. A few include:
- checking trail conditions, and opening and closing trails as appropriate
- selling lift tickets
- loading and unloading guests onto and off of lifts
- attending to anyone who needs assistance while on the slope
- repairing broken-down equipment
- making snow and grooming trails (Most snowmaking and grooming occurs at night, after a mountain is closed.)
During the offseason, the day-to-day operations are much more relaxed. There’s still plenty to do, though. This is the time when most non-emergency repairs are made, routine maintenance is done and improvements are put in.
What is the target market?
A ski resort business’ ideal customer is an active person who is passionate about winter sports and has a significant amount of discretionary income. Such a person will likely go skiing or snowboarding multiple times, as they probably enjoy the activity and can afford to participate in the sports.
How does a ski resort make money?
A ski resort’s primary product or service are lift tickets, which guests buy so they might go up the mountain. Tickets bring in only a fraction of a resort’s revenue, though.
While your guests are staying at your resort, there are many opportunities to sell them additional products and services. Common products and services that ski resorts sell include:
- equipment rentals
- foods and beverages
- ski and snowboard gear
What is the growth potential for a ski resort?
Most ski resort businesses operate only one resort. Instead of opening up resorts in other areas, resorts that want to expand will usually either expand their current resort or increase the amenities they offer. Cutting new trails, installing more lifts and opening neighboring peaks lets a resort expand so that it can attract and accommodate more guests. Adding amenities, which might include anything from a new bar to a five-star hotel, can also help attract more guests, and it can increase revenue.
Killington, a ski resort in Vermont, has used both of these strategies. The resort has many amenities, including the high-end Killington Grand Resort Hotel and several restaurants in the area. It also boasts seven peaks -- including nearby Pico, which was a nearby ski resort that went bankrupt and was bought by the owners of Killington.
In some cases, a single company may own multiple (usually larger) ski resorts. Even when multiple resorts are owned by one company, though, each resort is often operated by an independent company or group.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful ski resort?
A ski resort business owner should either be able to teach people to ski, or they should have the financial ability to hire one or more ski instructors. Business owners who don’t have enough knowledge about skiing and snowboarding ought to hire someone, as it can take years to master the sports.
Additionally, a business owner should have an in-depth knowledge of the inner workings of ski resorts. Trade magazines, such as POWDER and SKI Magazine, provide some insights into the industry, and working at ski resorts will give business owners firsthand experience. Business owners may also want to earn an associate of science in ski resort management, which includes classes on ski area risk management, ski area planning, mountain operations, housekeeping management and other relevant topics.
What are the costs involved in opening a ski resort?
The costs of opening a ski resort are significant. Business owners need to purchase land, cut trails, buy equipment, build lodges and other buildings and install lifts. These don’t even take into account employee’s initial wages, insurance costs, permit fees and energy costs. According to EHow, snowmaking equipment alone costs millions of dollars, and land can run hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Existing resorts come up for sale fairly regularly, but they also cost a lot to purchase and begin operating. When CNC Lifestyle Properties, which owns major resorts around the country, listed its 16 ski resorts for sale, they collectively were worth hundreds of millions of dollars. A small resort in New York was listed for much less. It only cost $475,000, but almost all of its equipment would have to be replaced.
What are the steps to start a ski resort?
Once you're ready to start your ski resort, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:
- Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
- Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your ski resort is sued.
- Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
- Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your ski resort keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
- Set up business accounting. Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
- Obtain necessary permits and licenses. Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
- Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
- Define your brand. Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
- Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers. Save 15% when you create a business website with Weebly.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Where can I find a business mentor?
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a ski resort?
A ski resort business’ location has a large impact on its potential success. A great location will provide ample space for many different trails (of varying difficulties), be easy for people to get to and offer room to expand by offering more amenities in the future. It also will get lots of snow. In some areas, just a mile can be the difference between getting a lot of snow and just a moderate amount.
Additionally, at least some of a resort’s trails should face north. These trails will get less sun each day, so their snow won’t melt as quickly. Keeping just one or two north-facing trails open can help a resort extend its season by several days or, even, a few weeks.
Finally, before opening a ski resort, business owners should work with the resort’s energy supplier to see if they can get a discounted rate. Making snow requires a vast amount of energy, and even a small discount could save a resort a lot of money. Some resorts are able to get greatly discounted rates for a couple weeks a year, which lets them make most of their snow during these weeks and stockpile it for the rest of the season.
How to promote & market a ski resort
When marketing a ski resort business, it’s important to make the resort appeal to many different types of people. This not only helps a resort attract more guests, but it also ensures that families and groups with individuals who have differing interests and abilities will still come to the resort. To highlight all that it has to offer, a ski resort might want to run multiple online, print, radio and television campaigns simultaneously.
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How to keep customers coming back
A ski resort business can distinguish itself from other ski resorts in the area by offering more varied terrain and more amenities. Many guests will go to the largest resort they can get to.
How and when to build a team
Ski resort businesses usually need multiple employees from the outset. Business owners may want to hire people to help with ticket sales, mountain operations, lessons, equipment rentals and concessions. Most resorts also need ski patrollers, but these are often volunteers at smaller resorts.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
According to state law, you will likely need to receive a permit to operate a ski area from the relevant agency. Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a ski resort. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Ski resorts often sell alcohol in their lounges. As such, it is essential to obtain a liquor license in order to be able to legally offer alcoholic beverages. Here is a list of liquor licenses by state from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.
If you plan to sell food at your ski resort, you will need licensing from a local health department. All establishments serving food are required to pass a health inspection. Tips for faring well on a health inspection can be found here.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
Ski resorts may also wish to look into applying for a resale certificate, which allows retailers to purchase goods intended for resale without paying sales tax. This will be especially helpful when purchasing equipment for sale, such as skis, snowboards, clothing, and more.
For more information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Maintain Personal Asset Protection
Don’t think that just forming an LLC, or any other type of business, will save your personal assets in case of a lawsuit or other matter by itself.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your LLC is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Two of the simplest steps that will protect your business, and yourself, are to:
Open a business bank account
- This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Get a business credit card
- This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.
It is advisable to provide clients with informed consent agreements to decrease legal liability and encourage transparency. An example of a ski resort’s informed consent agreement can be found here.
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Many resorts may wish to play music in the lodge, especially if the lodge has a bar. In order to play music in a business setting, permission must be acquired from the composer or license holder. Typically, it is possible to obtain a “blanket” license allowing a businesses to play music owned by a large catalog of artists and recording studios. Such licenses can be obtained from Performance Rights Organizations, such as ASCAP or BMI.
Certificate of Occupancy
A ski resort is generally run out of a ski site, a large patch of land suitable for the activity. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.
If you plan to lease a location:
- It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
- Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a ski resort.
- After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
If you plan to purchase or build a location:
- You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
- Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your ski resort will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.
How much can you charge customers?
According to NBC News, the average price of a one-day lift ticket at a ski resort business was $85.52 in 2012. On the Snow lists current prices at ski resorts throughout the United States. On the site:
- many local ski resorts charge between $30 and $50 for a ticket
- regional resorts often charge between $60 and $90 for a ticket
- resorts that attract guests from all over the country charge between $70 and $130
What are the ongoing expenses for a ski resort?
The ongoing expenses for a ski resort business are significant. They include energy costs, maintenance, repair and upkeep expenses, insurance premiums, permit fees and employees’ salaries, among other items. Hopara says that simply keeping a mountain’s equipment up-to-date can cost $2 million annually.
How much profit can a ski resort make?
The potential profit of a ski resort varies greatly depending on its size and location. The mountains Hopara lists often bring in between $1 and $3 million each year. Large resorts can earn much, much more.
How can you make your business more profitable?
In the winter, a ski resort business can increase its revenue streams by offering tubing along with skiing and snowboarding. Putting in a waterpark or hosting events can help bring in revenue during the offseason.