Breckenridge, Colorado

RRC Associates December 2015 Newsletter

Research Insights for the Recreation & Tourism Industries

This month’s newsletter presents some opportunities to be involved in new research, local happenings, event updates, and more.  We welcome your input and feedback at

Understanding Beginner Skiers and Snowboarders

Now heading into its second season, the new NSAA Beginner Conversion study is a multi-year national research program that continues to gain traction. With broad industry support and more than double the participating areas, the project will provide an even r understanding of the behavior of first-timers.

Will first-timers return? To your area or somewhere else? What drives participation?  What is the profile of a beginner? This study will provide a better understanding of these questions and more.

Based on the results from year one, first-timer skiers and snowboarders have strong intentions to return after their first experience.  In fact, year one findings tell us that 55% intend to make skiing and snowboarding a lifelong sport.  This contrasts against the industry conversion rate of 17%.  The NSAA Beginner Conversion study hopes to provide insight for improving this conversion rate and providing opportunity for future growth in the snow sports industry.

There is still time to subscribe to the program for this season. Please contact Rob Linde  for more information.

A special thanks to these industry partners: NSAA, PSIA and AASI, AscentCRM, Snow Operating, HEAD skis, Burton Snowboards, Colorado Ski Country USA, Ski Vermont, Midwest Ski Areas Association, Ski Areas of New York

I-70 Mountain Express Lane Begins Operating December 12th

Let the experiment begin.  Starting December 12th CDOT will begin operating its $72 million toll lane along 13 miles of eastbound I-70 from the US-40/Empire exit to the Twin Tunnels (see Figure 1).  The lane will operate only during periods of congestion, which CDOT estimates begin when hourly traffic counts reach in excess of 2,000 cars per hour.  Interestingly, CDOT says the lane likely won’t operate during periods of heavy snow.  During peak loads CDOT hopes that as many as 750 to 900 cars per hour will utilize the lane, estimating that those who do will save up to 30 minutes in travel time.

Figure 1
Fig1 - express lane route
Eastbound I-70 Mountain Express Lane Route

Given the toll structure being implemented it is an open question as to how many will actually use the lane.  Note that at no point is the lane free for anyone, regardless of vehicle occupancy.  CDOT has released their toll structure with rough guidance as to how the tolls will relate to the time of day (see Figure 3).  In late afternoon tolls could reach has high as $30.  At that rate this stretch of road will be the highest price per mile toll road in the United States, and note that you will need a new transponder or sticker tag if you don’t want to get hit with a hefty $40 toll.

There are also questions of how many times and which days CDOT will chose to open the lane.  Due to federal regulations, operation of the lane is limited to a maximum of 73 days per year.  The initial plan is to open the lane on Saturdays and Sundays during the peak travel months of December through March and June through August. The lane will also be open on holidays when traffic volumes are typically higher. Additionally, CDOT says it will continually monitor traffic volumes, and notes that it is not precluded from opening the Express Lane on other days when there is heavy traffic.  Still, one wonders if 73 days are enough to accommodate all high traffic days, and how these days be allocated across a busy winter and an even higher volume summer.  One can imagine a scenario in December of 2016; it’s a busy ski weekend, eastbound traffic is snarled, CDOT has burned through its 73 days and drivers stare longingly at an empty toll lane.

Figure 2

Fig2 express lane simulation
Simulation of How I-70 Mountain Express Lane Functions When Open and Closed

At RRC we will be closely monitoring this experiment.  Throughout the course of 2016 we’ll be tracking closely the dates on which the lane is open and how the toll structure varies, as well as how CDOT messages toll operations.  CDOT is planning an extensive paid media campaign that will launch just prior to the opening of the Express Lane in December 2015.  CDOT is also reaching out to the ski industry, resorts and lodges, rental car agencies at Denver International Airport, and communications professionals at counties, cities and local organizations along the corridor to share information with their customers and constituencies.

We will also be tracking consumer’s perceptions of how the lane is functioning.  We are interested in understanding what conditions trigger the lane’s use, how the composition of the travel party influences the decision to use the lane, and whether or not users save as much time as promised.  Additionally, we will be interested in understanding how the lane impacts travelers’ perceptions and use patterns of the overall I-70 corridor, given that congestion issues will assuredly remain on other parts of the highway.  Given some of the complexities of the program, we aren’t entirely confident skiers and riders will fully understand all of the mechanics of this new system.  While we wish the program success, it feels a bit like a temporary and incomplete, albeit hopefully helpful, fix to a much larger problem.

CDOT I-70 Mountain Express Lane Tolling Fact Sheet

CDOT I-70 Mountain Express Lane FAQs

RRC at SIA Snow Show

RRC’s Nate Fristoe will be speaking during the Industry + Intelligence day of the SIA Snow Show on January 27th, 2016.

The day is scheduled to have nearly 20 sessions covering five core intel tracks, and Nate’s presentation will provide an “Exploration of the Evolving Snow Sports Consumer.” Attendees will gain insights from recent research to help adapt to the changing market.

See full details and schedule.

Early Snowpack

The western U.S. has seen much conjecture about this year’s El Niño effects, but what is the on-the-ground reality? In the Northeast and Midwest a strong warm weather pattern will likely persist through Christmas. In the Northwest recent warm rains have reduced snowpack to 27% of normal near Mount Hood and 42% of normal near Bend, Oregon. In the Rocky Mountains southern resorts continue to fare better than northern ones.

For the most current update check out the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Water and Climate Center’s network of SNOWTEL stations across the western U.S. This system provides daily snowpack updates which are then mapped to provide a unique view of current snowpack compared to historic averages. You can interactively update the map’s parameters to see how your region is fairing compared to other regions.

View the map here.


Upcoming Conferences and Meetings

Here are some upcoming conferences and meetings that we’ll be presenting at and/or attending.  Hope to see you there!

Article Library

To read our archive of our articles from the NSAA Journal, visit the Article Library on our website.

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