Ski resort trade group reports early season double-digit drop for the second year in a row
By Bob Berwyn
FRISCO — For the second year in a row, Colorado ski areas were hit hard by a lack of early season snow, as skier visits dipped 11.5 percent for the period spanning opening day to Dec. 31. Last winter, the state’s ski resort association reported that visits dropped 10 percent from the year before that.
Variable snow conditions and some late openings were factors in the decline, according to Colorado Ski Country USA president and CEO Melanie Mills.
“First period is largely fueled by in-state visitors, and an unseasonably warm October and November kept many Coloradans from tallying lots of ski days,” Mills said. “Snow did not arrive in earnest until mid-December, but when it came, it was in time for in-state and out-of-state guests to enjoy wonderful wintery holidays at resorts.”
Early season ski gear sales were also down for the early season, according to SnowSports Industries America, where trend trackers said that fiscal uncertainty, along with Hurricane Sandy, took a bite out of business in the Northeast, a key market region for the ski industry.
CSCUSA totals don’t include skier visits at the Vail Resorts-owned Breckenridge, Keystone, Vail and Beaver Creek. Vail Resorts reported this week that its skier visits were up 2 percent from last year across all seven of its resorts, including the Tahoe area. The company did not specify skier-visit numbers for its Colorado resorts, but claimed in a press release that couple of its properties had record-setting holiday visitation.
According to CSCUSA, its member resorts reported a strong holiday period, helping to generate momentum for the rest of the season.
“There is some real buoyancy in the indicators for the months ahead: February and March hotel bookings are pacing ahead of last year by 3.5 percent and 8.6 percent respectively, according to MTRiP. Carnival and Easter are well-timed for ski visitation this year and Colorado’s traditional snowier months lie ahead,” Mills said. “We’re optimistic that some of the best skiing of the season is still ahead of us.”
This season’s less than stellar numbers come on the heels of last year’s lackluster performance nationwide, with skier visits declining by more than 15 percent.
Colorado Ski Country USA’s 21 member resorts reported an 11.4 percent drop at the end of last season, equalling about 790,000 fewer skier visits than in the 2010-20111 season. At the end of last season, visits were down about 12 percent from the five-year running average.
Clearly, industry officials weren’t counting on a second dry year in a row, as Mills said last June that snow droughts are “historically rare.”
But climate change may be the looming wild card in the deck. University of New Hampshire researchers recently estimated that the $12.2 billion snow sports industry has already suffered a $1 billion loss and dropped up to 27,000 jobs due to diminished snow fall patterns and the resulting changes in the outdoor habits of Americans.