Ski industry lifts Tahoe economy by $564 million, study finds

In a few weeks, thousands of winter-sports enthusiasts will descend upon Lake Tahoe for months of skiing, snowboarding, dining, lounging and more. The value of all of this winter frivolity? A cool half-billion dollars, according to a new study from SF State's Patrick Tierney.

A photo of Professor of Recreation, Parks and Tourism Patrick Tierney while skiing.

Professor of Recreation, Parks and Tourism Patrick Tierney

Tierney, a professor of recreation, parks and tourism, recently completed a survey of the nine largest ski resorts in the Tahoe area and found that during the 2013-14 winter season, they contributed $564 million to the local economy. The study, conducted for the tourism organization Ski Lake Tahoe, is the first to look specifically at the economic impact of the Tahoe ski industry. Previous studies had examined the industry's statewide impact.

These nine resorts represent more than 75 percent of all skier visits to the Tahoe area, a total of 2.72 million visits, Tierney said. All told, those visitors spent $427 million directly on skiing or skiing-related activities, primarily on lift tickets, food and drinks and hotel rooms. Factoring in indirect expenditures, such as purchases from food wholesalers by restaurants, brought the total economic impact to $564.5 million. That generated $33 million in tax revenue for state and local governments. The resorts themselves supported 8,290 full- and part-time jobs, spent $21 million on capital improvements and paid $5 million in property taxes.

"This economic boost is extremely important. As you would expect, in the winter the number of casual and gambling tourists drops off, compared to summer, so the timing of this spending in the Tahoe area couldn't be better," Tierney added.

To conduct the study, he asked each resort to share the number of skiier visits during the 2013-14 season, where those skiiers came from, how long they stayed, resort employment figures and the amount the resorts spent on capital improvements before the season. Then Tierney multiplied the number of skier visits in five different segments -- season pass holders, California residents, Nevada residents, residents of other states and those from other countries -- by the average amount skiers in each segment spend in California per day, as calculated by a 2011 statewide study and adjusted for inflation.

The figures did not surprise Tierney, who conducted a study in 2012 that found that the economic impact of all ski resorts in California was $2.1 billion. But he called the boost "remarkable," since the state is in the middle of a historic drought that has left the snowpack lower than in previous years. "The areas that did well have extensive snowmaking systems in place, and they spend a lot of money making man-made snow so they can open early," he said. "I was skiing at Heavenly during Thanksgiving 2013, even though there was very little natural snow."

The study projected that even a small increase in the number of visitors -- 2 percent to 5 percent -- could mean an additional economic boost of $10 million or more to the region.

-- Jonathan Morales