National skier visits also set new record
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Consistent snowfall all season long and a surge of business in May and June propelled skier visits at Arapahoe Basin to a new record this year. With about 450,000 skier and rider visits, the Basin surpassed its previous record — set three seasons ago — by about 20,000 visits, according to ski area chief Alan Henceroth, who said it was a banner year in all regards.
“Snowfall was above average every single month for eight months in a row,” Henceroth said, recalling some phenomenal late-May powder days and looking back at a 253-day season that started Oct. 25 and ran through July 4. That all added up to a season total of 473 inches, the second-best ever, and April’s 87 inches was a record for that month. The base reached 100 inches on March 16 and stayed near or above that level for many days after that.
Montezuma Bowl opened Dec. 18 and stayed open through early June, the earliest opening and latest closing of the bowl since it was developed for lift-served skiing four years ago.
Perhaps the only dark spot on the season was the loss of Leif Borgeson, a well-liked patroller who died of heart failure while skiing in the Aspen area on a day off in mid-season.
Henceroth detailed some other season highlights on his blog, which chronicles the season with regular posts, including some fine photography capturing the bliss of a powder-rich winter and spring.
This summer, the ski area will finish the final piece of its planned parking lot expansion by adding another 225 spaces in the Last Chance lot and finish up the hiking and biking trail from the base area up to Black Mountain Lodge. You can also look for a new online E-store as part of the ski area’s website, and, of course, season passes for next winter are already on sale at $309 for the A-Basin-only pass, up $10 from last year.
Bonus passes, with limited access to Vail Resorts ski areas, are $369 for the coming season. Pass info and sales are online here.
The only time skier visits fell below expectations this season was in April, which was a little softer than projected, Henceroth said.
“We got to April and we were a little worried. Everyone had snow and a lot of other resorts were open late (due to a late-falling Easter holiday), so we missed our usual migration up to the Basin,” said Greg Finch, president of Dundee Resort Development, the Avon-basec company that owns A-Basin.
Other parts of the season were “wavy,” according to Finch.
“There were a few times we were wondering where everybody was, and other times when you couldn’t park everybody,” Finch said.
That followed a statewide trend up ups and downs that may have been affected by a couple of mid-season cold snaps and by weather-related travel woes along I-70, he said. But the surge of visits in May and the first half of June easily compensated for any temporary dips, he added.
Both Finch and Henceroth said the ski area is looking at ways to reinforce the healthy trend of more family skiing at A-Basin, and some sort of children’s center may be the next big capital improvement project sometime in the next two to three years.
“Our kids business has really grown over the past few years,” Henceroth said. Despite a reputation as an expert’s playground, More Colorado skiers are bringing their families to A-Basin and finding that, especially with the addition of Montezuma Bowl, the area offers good family style terrain. In contrast to some of the mega-resorts, the layout of A-Basin is also family friendly, with all the runs on the front side funneling down to a central base area.
A-Basin wants to continue growing that part of its business, which will also help ensure future customers for the area, Finch and Henceroth said.
More long-term, A-Basin is in the very early stages of looking at the potential for lift-served skiing in the Beavers area, currently a favored side-country stash for powderhounds.
“Alan’s been making some drawings and doing some computer simulations,” Finch said, explaining that any potential terrain addition in the Beavers would be subject to intense scrutiny for a variety of issues.
“It would be fair to say that we’ve putting some work into a concept plan,” Henceroth said, adding that a top-level management team at A-Basin will meet sometime this summer to have some in-depth discussion about the idea.
Skier visits up nationwide
A-Basin was one of about a dozen ski areas that stayed open, or re-opened, for the July 4 holiday weekend, when about 50,000 skiers and snowboarders took to the slopes around the country, according the annual Kottke end of season survey done for the National Ski Areas Association.
That late-season enthusiasm translated into a record year for the entire U.S. ski industry, marking only the second time that skier visits passed the 60 million threshold, according to the National Ski Areas Association. The season total of 60.5 million skier days is a .1 percent increase from the previous record, set 2007-2008 and up .6 percent from last winter’s 59.8 million skier days.
Nationally, snowfall at resorts was up 29 percent this season, the highest recorded in 20 years of Kottke research. As a result, the average length of the season increased, with some resorts opening early and closing later than usual. Skier visits increased in most regions of the country. The industry as a whole exceeded its 10-season average by 4.7 percent, a pattern echoed by all regions.