Rocky Mountain region breaks all-time record with 24 million skier visits this winter
Whether it’s at the hotels and inns, cafes, bars and restaurants, or with the season pass holders, most in Colorado know this ski season was one for the books. Just how good, though, might be surprising.
The preliminary figures released Tuesday by the National Association of Ski Areas trade group show that skier visits in the U.S. increased by nearly 11% over last season with more than 59 million this winter.
The association found the growth was most dramatic in the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountain regions, which saw skier and snowboarder visits jump by 22.9% and 15.6%, respectively.
Overall, the 2018–19 ski season will go down as fourth best in terms of visitation since the association started tracking these figures in 1978. For comparison, the best season on record came in 2010–11, when there were more than 60.5 million visits, followed closely by the 2007–08 ski season.
According to the National Ski Areas Association, no region in the U.S. saw more ski visits this winter than the Rocky Mountains, which broke all previous records by surpassing 24 million visits in 2018–19.
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Visits are defined by the purchase of a lift ticket for any portion of the day and the figures include season pass holders. The strong performance was announced at the National Ski Areas Association National Convention and Tradeshow in San Diego, and more data should be released later this year.
Like other groups in Summit County, including town officials and members of the businesses community, the industry association has attributed the increased skier traffic in large part to this winter’s abundant snowfall, which was up 31% nationwide from last season.
The association acknowledged the snowstorms posed problems across the country, but that snow also drew millions of powder-seekers to ski areas in the U.S., including the four located in Summit County — Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, Copper Mountain Resort, Keystone Resort and Breckenridge Ski Resort.
“Snow is our greatest asset and this year was one to remember,” said Kelly Pawlak, the association’s president and CEO, in a news release. Formed in 1962, the association represents 317 ski areas, their operators and industry suppliers from the association’s headquarters in Lakewood.
Traffic to Vail Resorts’ properties is included in the association’s totals, though as a publicly traded company, Vail Resorts closely guards the release of skier visits at its resorts.
However, the company had a good season on the whole. According to information released last week, season-to-date lift-ticket revenue at the company’s North American mountain resorts — including an allocated portion of season pass revenue for each applicable period — was up 9.3% over the previous year season-to-date period.
Company CEO Rob Katz recently hyped the outgoing ski season in comments about the company’s second quarter results.
“We are pleased with our overall results for the quarter, with strong growth in visitation and spending compared to the prior year,” he said, adding that Vail Resorts’ properties in Colorado and Utah experienced “strong visitation during the holidays and through the remainder of the quarter,” largely in line with the company’s expectations.
But the season is not over yet. In fact, two Summit County ski areas — Arapahoe Basin and Breckenridge Ski Resort — are still going strong while nearby Loveland Ski Area is also operating.
A-Basin typically runs lifts into June while Breckenridge Ski Resort is making good on its newfound plans to run through the Memorial Day weekend.
And if snow is their currency, the local resorts have fared quite well this year.
In the last week alone, Breckenridge Ski Resort received nearly 2 feet of fresh snow. For the season, that put the resort at 428 inches total, making this the third snowiest winter for the resort behind only the 2010–11 ski season with 519 inches of snow and the 2013–14 season, which had 441 inches.
According to the Breckenridge Tourism Office, the town’s winter occupancy data shows that as of April 15, Breckenridge saw winter occupancy rise 7% for November through April over the previous year.
“The strong snow year has driven increases in visitation and many of our ski areas have reported record years in that regard,” said Adrienne Saia Isaac, the association’s director of marketing and communications.
However, ensuring the trend of heightened skier visitation continues across the U.S. will require more than snow, Isaac predicted, as she said that engaging new skiers and riders, further improving the guest experience and mitigating the effects of climate change are all important to “ensure the health” of the ski industry.
Colorado Ski Country USA, a state trade group, will release its stats on skier visits in June.
The Aspen Times contributed to this report.