Aspen ski visits fall 7.6 percent |

Aspen ski visits fall 7.6 percent

Rick Carroll
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN, Colorado – Skier and snowboarder visits to the Aspen Skiing Co.’s four area mountains tumbled 7.6 percent last winter compared to the 2007-08 season, the company said Thursday.

All told, 1,364,056 skiers and riders hit the local slopes over the winter. That’s 106,491 fewer visits than the previous season’s tally of 1,470,547, and the lowest total since the 2003-04 season, which saw 1,323,631 visits. It marked the first time since the 2004-05 season that Skico visits dipped below the 1.4 million mark.

As usual, Snowmass accounted for more visits than its three sister ski areas combined, attracting 733,597 visits, 37,858 fewer than the previous season’s haul of 771,455, and reflecting a drop of 5 percent. A skier visit, the standard measure in the ski industry, is one skier or snowboarder on the slopes for any part of a day.

Buttermilk, meanwhile, saw its visits dive by 18 percent, the biggest plunge – percentage wise – among Skico’s four resorts. The Winter X Games venue recorded 126,976 visits last season, compared to 154,926 during the previous one (see chart for Aspen and Aspen Highlands).

Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said the decline at Buttermilk, a beginner’s mountain with several terrain parks, might have been because the more experienced skiers and boarders visited Aspen-Snowmass last season, opting for more challenging terrain at the other three mountains.

“Right now it’s just a theory, but this year there weren’t as many people trying [to ski or snowboard] for the first time,” he said.

The slide in visits was expected, based on statements made by Skico executives earlier in the season, when they predicted a drop as high as 15 percent.

“We have been saying all season that we expected numbers to be down between 5 and 15 percent,” Skico senior vice president David Perry said in a company statement. “The fact that we are in the lower end of this range is good news and is a testament to the hard work and dedication of everyone at the Aspen Skiing Company and the entire community.”

Hanle said Skico did not cut staff, amenities or services last season, despite the economic climate.

“We learned we can be a lot more efficient,” he said, “and still stay the course.”

Skico’s announcement came the same day the state’s marketing arm for the industry, Colorado Ski Country USA, reported that its 22 member resorts registered 6.79 million skier visits, down 6.9 percent, or an estimated 500,000 visits, from the previous season. Those figures did not include Vail Resorts and its four ski areas – Vail, Beaver Creek, Keystone and Breckenridge. Vail Resorts pulled out of the trade group after the 2007-08 season.

Vail Resorts has said it had about 5 million skier visits, down about 3.5 percent from 5.2 million the season before, The Associated Press reported.

Visits at Colorado Ski Country USA’s member resorts, combined with Vail Resorts’ data, amount to 11.85 million visits, a drop of 690,000 visits, or 5.5 percent.

Aspen-Snowmass and state resorts had a seemingly tough act to follow this year. Last year the state recorded its second season ever for skier visits with 12.5 million plus (those figures include Vail Resorts), before the true impacts of the recession were being felt.

“The travel industry as a whole was put to the test this past year,” Colorado Ski Country USA president and CEO Melanie Mills said in a written statement. “But visitation numbers show not only the enduring value of a Colorado ski vacation, but the strong commitment our resident skiing and riding community has to our state’s signature sports.”

Colorado Ski Country USA, a statewide trade association, is holding its annual meeting in Boulder through today. Final, statewide skier numbers are expected to be released during the session.

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