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Size matters

M. John Fayhee
Dominique TaylorVail is the largest lift-serviced ski area in the country, with about 5,200 acres of lift-accessed terrain, though Powder Mountain, Utah, advertises itself as the biggest single ski area in the county, with more than 5,700 acres within its permit boundaries. "Only" 2,800 of those acres are lift-served, though.
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With the snowguns already blowing in Colorado and yet another ski season right around the corner, I thought this week it would be fun to look at some raw ski industry statistics, if for no other reason than giving you some ammunition next time you find yourself getting into a barroom argument with someone from say, Utah or Montana, states that, just to start this column of on the right foot, combined have only two more ski areas than the entire state of Colorado.

OK, that’s a good place to begin. I’ll admit that when you’ve got Vail and Breckenridge in your statistical quiver it’s almost an apples-and-oranges argument to compare the number of ski resorts from one state to the next.

Of the 37 states with operating ski areas, New York leads with 50 areas operating in 2006-07, followed by Michigan, which has 38, Wisconsin, which has 34, and California and Pennsylvania, which have 32 each.

While not every area in Colorado is mammoth in size (there are Howelsen Hill and Echo Mountain, after all), let’s see if anyone out there not from Pennsylvania can name a single one of the Keystone State’s 32 ski areas. Well, let’s see here. There’s Tussey Mountain, Whitetail and Ski Sawmill ” all of which I’m sure are perfectly nice areas run by the best people in the world (and, more importantly, it’s areas like those that serve as gateway drugs to get people into skiing and snowboarding so hopefully one day they will take the leap and vacation in Colorado).

Again, let’s see if anyone who’s not a Cheesehead can name a single one of those 34 ski areas in the Badger State. There’s Christie Mountain, Standing Rocks and Trollhaugen. Again, I’ll bet there’s lots of schussing fun to be had by all at Trollhaugen, but, well …

Michigan has Boyne Mountain, the biggest ski area in the Midwest, and New York has numerous world-class resorts in the Adirondacks, but, clearly, the average ski resort in Michigan and New York is to Colorado what a McDonalds indoor play area is to Central Park.

California’s ski areas are, of course, the real deal, so I’ll save any derogatory comments I might have for all things Golden State-related for a later date.

When it comes to skier numbers, Colorado reigns supreme, which, I understand is, shall we tactfully say, more important to some people than it is to others.

Skiing is, as most of you know, measured by “skier days” (or “skier visits”), which is yet another example of how difficult it is to come up with a single noun that includes all forms of downhill recreational movement on snow. (“Snowslider days” just doesn’t cut it.) Meaning no insult to snowboarders, a skier day is one ski-area customer buying a single one-day lift ticket, or two ski-area customers buying a half-day lift ticket each.

Of the 60,502,459 skier days recorded last ski season (a 9.9 percent increase over the previous winter), 21,324,224 took place in the Rocky Mountain Region, which includes Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Idaho and Utah. Of that number, 12,519,533 took place in Colorado. That means Colorado boasted more skier days last winter than Utah, New Mexico, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming combined. (Utah comes in at number two in the Rocky Mountain Region, with 4,264,887.)

Colorado alone had more skier days than the entire Pacific West Region, the Midwest Region and, not surprisingly, the Southeast Region.

The state with the second-highest number of skier visits last winter was California, with 6,789,206, or just over half of the skier days recorded in Colorado. Again, I certainly sympathize with those who consider those stats to be reason in and of themselves to go to Montana, but the basic scale of comparison you’ve got to admit is sobering.


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