December bookings at 16 mountain resort destinations are "down a sharp 12 percent compared to the same time last year," according to the most recent data released by the Mountain Travel Research Program.
"Typically, we're past the point of even holiday travel-plan procrastinators to be booking," said Ralf Garrison, director of MTRiP. "That doesn't mean that consumers won't make up for winter traveling during the late-season."
Very slight gains were posted in January and February while December, March, April and May are currently showing declines.
The firm measures a sampling of 260 property management companies in 16 mountain destinations, representing 24,000 rooms across Colorado, Utah, California and Oregon. From the data, MTRiP compiles and publishes a monthly report on trends in the ski industry.
According to the research firm, snowfall is the main factor affecting the rate of reservation bookings at the local resorts.
"Although reports about the looming 'fiscal cliff' have dominated the national news ever since the election, the discussion in mountain communities is very snow-centric," Garrison said.
The average daily rate, the amount a hotel charges for a room, climbed from the 18th consecutive month. But more snowfall would boost consumer confidence and bring down rates at most companies, Garrison said.
"Since this data was collected and compiled, many mountain destinations have received much-needed snow and a considerable bump in reservation activity but it's likely too little too late to help December occupancy," he said. "The mid-season strength is gratifying, but even those figures are vulnerable to early season momentum and messaging from holiday visitors."
Looking at the long-range view, the monthly MTRiP briefing reported that reservations for arrivals through May 2013 are down only 2.8 percent compared to the same time last year.
As a result, Garrison said overall advance reservation activity continues to lag, and overall seasonal occupancy is still trending down with December's holiday season well behind historic levels.
In the wake of weak, early season storm patterns, the briefing also focused on climate change and the ski industry.
The monthly report emphasized that the ski and snowboard industry is "deeply vested in keeping winters cold and snowy - regardless of political disagreements about the causes."
"As investors turned their attention from the federal election to the fiscal cliff debate, the Dow dropped a dramatic 690 points in the first two weeks of November, but a combination of strong holiday spending and a sense of improving consumer confidence helped it recover by mid-month," said Tom Foley, operations director for MTRiP.