Despite recent shifts in storm systems that brought much-needed snow to many western resorts, early season momentum continues to slow and actual occupancy declined 3.7 percent among participating destinations during the month of January according to the most recent data released by the Denver-based Mountain Travel Research Program (MTRiP).

The booking pace for reservations taken during the month for arrivals in January through June dropped dramatically, down 23.8 percent compared to the same time last year.

“Below average snowfall remained the story across most western MTRiP destinations, with occupancy and booking momentum lagging behind last year as the result,” acknowledged Ralf Garrison, director of MTRiP.  “But despite the drop off in bookings, our data noted that as of Jan. 31, on-the-books occupancy for February is only down 1.9 percent.  Positive snow equity from last year and encouraging changes in weather patterns is helping and there is still enough time to cash in on pent up skier demand if the snow keeps coming,” he added.

Overall results for the past six months from August 2011 through January 2012 showed that occupancy was up 1.3 percent from the same time period last year.

While resorts watched weather reports and waited for snow, several economic indicators continued in a positive direction that appeared to mitigate some of the impact to resorts.  As of Jan. 31, the Dow Jones was up sharply and posted its fourth consecutive monthly gain-up 6.2 percent from one year ago and within 300 points of its highest level in three years.  A better, and lower, than expected Unemployment Rate of 8.3 percent was additional good news for the economy while both the Travel Price Index and Consumer Price Index declined. Despite these positive figures, the Consumer Confidence Index declined 5.7 percent, with MTRiP analysts citing concerns over job stability, projected increases in fuel prices and earnings as the probable reasons.

“This was an interesting month as weather and the economy reversed positions from the past three years,” observed Tom Foley, operations director for MTRiP.  “Because of the improving economy, we saw room rates actually increase 2.3 percent during January compared to the same month a year ago, although because of the lower snow totals, occupancy figures took a hit but not as severely as expected since people appear to be feeling better about the economy,” he added.

The data also looks forward six months and as of Jan. 31 bookings are up 0.9 percent for arrivals in February through July.

“As snow conditions have become more of an issue, price has become somewhat less important for guests who can get the vacation experience they are looking for,” noted Garrison.  “But with the double wild cards of weather and economy still very much in play for this season, we’ll be paying close attention to both factors in the months ahead and encourage our subscribers to do the same to better act, and react, to the changing landscape.”

MTRiP derives its data from a sample of 265 property management companies in 15 mountain destination communities, representing 24,000 rooms across Colorado, Utah, California and Oregon and may not reflect the entire mountain destination travel industry. Results may vary significantly among/between resorts and participating properties.