Wednesday, November 29, 2017

How much Does Snowfall Impact Oregon’s Winter Tourism Employment?

If we look at the relationship between Oregon’s winter leisure and hospitality employment and snowpack over the past several years we see no meaningful patterns. To put it another way, a snowy winter in the mountains doesn’t provide a boost to the broad leisure and hospitality sector. This is fairly surprising, as I am sure that many assume that snow sport recreation is a major driver of Oregon’s winter leisure and hospitality sector. This begs the question, what does drive winter leisure and hospitality employment in Oregon? It turns out that most of the variance in winter leisure and hospitality employment can be explained by broad economic trends in Oregon and across the nation. The business cycle is the best predictor, not the weather.

If we zoom in on the state’s ski resorts, a meaningful relationship between snowpack and employment emerges. Over the past 15 years, ski resort employment was positively correlated with snowpack; more snow translates into more jobs. This is not surprising as these businesses are directly impacted by snow. A strong snowpack and numerous “powder” days attract skiers and snowboarders both locally and from outside Oregon. Ski resort employment reached a new peak in 2017 with an average employment from January-April of around 2,500 jobs. This was during a relatively cold and snowy winter with snowpack nearly 12 percent higher than the 15-year average in the Central Cascades.
Although a major driver of ski resort employment, snowpack isn’t the only factor influencing the employment situation at Oregon’s ski resorts. Even when controlling for snowpack we see a positive correlation with Oregon’s population and economic output. More people moving to the state translate into more people skiing and more ski resort jobs. Although less significant, as Oregon’s economy improves from the recession we also see a rebound in ski resort employment. Skiing is a discretionary expense, a choice. Many folks feel more comfortable spending money on recreation when their financial situation is more stable. This helps to explain why there were more ski resort jobs and more hours worked in 2017 than the recording breaking snow year in 2008 during the depths of the previous recession.

Although we are expecting to see a moderate La Niña this winter that will likely bring average or above average snowpack to Oregon’s mountains, don’t expect to see that translate into a significant boost to the state’s leisure and hospitality sector. However, it would be a boost to local ski hills and the communities that support winter snow recreation, such as Bend, Sunriver, Sisters, Sandy, Ashland, Chemult, Baker City, Government Camp, and Rhododendron.

Read the full article by Karla Castillo and Damon Runberg

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