Ski area visits rise from previous season with spring snow on its way |

Ski area visits rise from previous season with spring snow on its way

A skier enjoys untouched lines at Purgatory Resort in Durango. A recent midseason report noted that visits to ski areas statewide, including at Purgatory, are up this year from last season an average of more than 6 percent since opening day.
Scott Smith / Purgatory Resort |

SUMMIT COUNTY — Colorado resorts remain one of the nation’s premier destinations for skiers and riders, based on recently released data.

Since Opening Day of the 2015-16 season, the state’s ski areas are up for visitations, outpacing last year’s numbers through Feb. 29 by just better than 6 percent. That’s according to a mid-season announcement this week from Colorado Ski Country USA, a trade association that represents 21 of Colorado’s 25 ski areas, which also noted that for January and February, the statistical growth was consistent and held steady at an increase of almost 4 percent.

“We are thrilled with the way the season is shaping up with this season-to-date uptick,” said Jenn Rudolph, Colorado Ski Country USA’S communications director. “It bodes well for Colorado in response to the early-season snow around the holidays.”

Of late though, snow in the Colorado High Country has come at a premium, with sparse storms around Summit County during the month of February. It wasn’t until the middle of last month that there was snowfall of much significance, and the first two weeks of March — historically the region’s snowiest month — also got off to a slow start before the arrival of the cold front presently blanketing the area this week.

By the numbers, the dearth of snow hasn’t seemed to negatively impact the industry, which is particularly weather reliant. Vail Resorts, Inc. — owners of Colorado’s other four ski areas Vail, Beaver Creek, Keystone Resort and Breckenridge Ski Resort — also announced last week that total visitation to its resorts trended in a similar upward trajectory, up nearly 10 percent so far this season.

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“It’s certainly weather dependent,” added Rudolph, “and years like this, with El Nino, are really hard to predict. But the great thing about Colorado and our resorts is they have a lot to offer, and people still come out for the conditions of sunny, blue skies, mild temperatures and the enjoyment of being outside rather than just racking up powder days.”

But the white stuff has arrived in a fury the past three days, and the local ski areas, as well as spring breakers in town for the week and resident resort-goers, are the direct benefactors. Loveland Ski Resort, which typically stays open into May, averages 422 inches seasonally but is currently below average at 258 inches as of Wednesday. That said, Loveland reported 11 inches on Tuesday followed by 6 inches Wednesday, with more on the way.

“It has been a good season,” said John Sellers, marketing director at Loveland Ski Area. “Strong start and then a little dry in January and February. March started slow but seems to be picking up nicely, and April is also one of the snowier months of the year, so plenty of powder days left in the season.”

Whether Colorado Ski Country USA and Vail Resorts’ respective announcements ultimately lead to breaking the state’s season record for visitations is anyone’s guess. The 2013-14 season still holds that honor, recording 12.6 million resort guests across the 25 ski areas.

That ski season benefited from a number of factors converging, including robust snow conditions mixed with pleasant temperatures and a strong economy. The Winter Olympics also took place in Sochi that February, perhaps influencing more people to hit the slopes after watching their snowsport heroes on television.

The present season can’t boast all of those same elements, but sports on the TV just may be helping with those mid-season visitor totals once again.

“When it snows at Broncos games in the fall,” said Rudolph, “that’s some of our best marketing. Word gets out to destination visitors that Colorado has great conditions, and great snow early in the season sets up vacation planning for later in the year, which is likely what happened this year because we had such good early conditions.”

A steadfast turnout from devout in-state skiers has also been a major component of these visitor totals at the halfway point of the season. And with the ever-popular mountain pastime of spring skiing only around the corner as the equinox approaches tonight, guests seeking bluebird conditions with the occasional dusting of fresh snow will soon be in luck.

“Colorado has a really long ski season, as Summit County knows, sometimes with skiing through the beginning of summer,” said Rudolph. “There’s still a lot of ski days left, and in the ski industry, we stay optimistic, so hopefully this momentum continues, and we end on a big, high, snowy note.”

Colorado Ski Country USA will release final statewide ski area visitation totals for the 2015-16 season at its annual meeting in June.

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