Making a Splash in a Tough Economy – Ski Area Waterparks Add to Family Fun and Revenues

Soaring Eagle1I stood inside the clear tube, my heart pounding in my chest.  A speaker above my head counted down. “Three. Two. One. Drop.” The floor swung out from beneath me, dropping me into the near-vertical tube of the 60-foot high La Chute waterslide, a harrowing inverted-loop ride that pulls sliders at up to 50 feet per second. It’s the only indoor one like it in the world. La Chute is part of Jay Peak’s Pump House indoor waterpark in Northern Vermont. This winter Jay opened the 50,000-square-foot indoor water park, along with the slopeside and expansive 176-room Hotel Jay.

The Pump House is an impressive complex. Costing more than $20 million to build, the park is a veritable oasis, with a variety of offerings that range from slow to scary. A whitewater river circulates the park’s periphery, with vacationers bobbing in tubes as a convoluted knot of waterslides looms overhead. Winding moderate slides like The Double Barrel run parallel to the thrilling La Chute, a speed slide that looks no more at home in an indoor setting than a roller coaster.

A cluster of hot tubs resides in the park’s center, flanked by cabanas for rent. An arcade and snack station sit poolside, while a mezzanine bar serves up tropical drinks to onlookers watching surfers on the stationary Flowrider surf wave, or the Jumbotron that hangs from the ceiling of the glass structure. The Pump House instills the feeling of being in the warm South, outdoors and in the sun. During the summer, when the roof retracts, that impression of warm rays becomes a reality.

Despite its out-of-the-way location in rural Vermont, Jay has thrived as a ski area due in large part to its impressive terrain and deep snow. An average of more than 350 inches falls here each year. But as Marketing Director Steve Wright explains, Jay struck out in 2009 to strengthen its approach to the family market and also amplify its revenue stream during the summer months. Hence the development of the water park.

Jay is not the only “core skier” mountain to bridge the gap from freeskiing epicenter to family funhouse. In 2008 Silver Mountain in Kellogg, Idaho, opened the Silver Rapids Indoor Waterpark, a 42,000-square-foot indoor oasis of tube slides, a lazy river, their own Flowrider surf wave, and everything in between. According to John Williams, Silver’s director of marketing, the addition of the waterpark was a critical element in differentiating his resort from others.

“We have fairly steep terrain at Silver. [The waterpark] was a good way to become more family oriented,” he says, adding that the addition of the park “established [Silver Mountain Resort] as a destination resort, not just a day ski area.”DSC07981

The waterpark did more than tap Silver Mountain’s skier market, which was limited to around 15 percent of skiers and snowboarders per capita. By offering a non-skiing option, nonskiing family members and even non-skiing families had a wet and wild option for their vacation. Similar to the situation at Jay, the indoor park provides customers security from rain and poor conditions during their holiday, making family vacations more “weatherproof.” And the new option has led to increased revenue on and off the slopes.

“Since the addition of the waterpark, we’ve nearly tripled our lodging bookings,” says Williams.

Silver Mountain’s waterpark attracts 90,000 visitors annually. All guests staying at the resort’s Morning Star Lodge have access to Silver Rapids, and season pass holders get four uses per year at no additional charge. What’s more, Williams says more bookings translate to increased ticket sales, which have also spiked. By bundling a season pass and waterpark pass, the resort has increased season pass sales by 60 percent in the last three years. This is good news for investors, because the park did not come cheap. It cost around $20 million to build. That figure, according to Williams, is dwarfed by the positive impact of the park on Silver Mountain’s revenue stream. Despite the investment, Williams reports that the resort flipped to a positive cashflow on the park within three years.

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