Powderhorn shines in tough winter for ski industry

Powderhorn Mountain Resort bucked a national trend this past winter, seeing a 7 percent increase in skier and snowboarder visits while the rest of the nation saw visits drop an average of 15 percent.

According to the Lakewood-based National Ski Areas Association, U.S. ski areas last winter registered an estimated 51 million skier and snowboarder visits, 15 percent less than the 2010–2011 ski season when 60.5 million skier/rider visits were tallied.

This past ski season, according to the preliminary 2011/2012 Kottke End of Season Survey, saw the fewest skiers and riders since 1991–92, another off snow year when only 50.8 million visits were recorded.

Colorado fared a bit better than the national average, with preliminary numbers down 7.4 percent as of the end of February, according to Colorado Ski Country USA.

That includes only the 22 resorts belonging to Colorado Ski Country and does not reflect the numbers from the four Vail-owned resorts in Colorado.

Final numbers for the 2011–2012 season will be released at the annual Colorado Ski Country meeting June 6 in Boulder.

Vail Resorts Inc. reported to its stockholders an 8.9 percent decline in skier visits at its Colorado resorts this past winter and a 24.3 percent drop at Vail’s two Tahoe resorts, Northstar and Heavenly.

“Cumulative snowfall at our six resorts was down more than 50 percent over the prior season,” Vail CEO Rob Katz said.

Powderhorn, meanwhile, benefited not only from good snow, often some of the best in the state, but also the buzz of new ownership and renewed energy brought by those new owners.

“We were very elated with our numbers this year,” said resort co-owner Andy Daly. “No doubt about it, we were helped by great snow and good (slope) grooming.”

The resort initially spent more than $800,000 on fixing up the base area and other much-needed maintenance, an investment that pays dividends when retaining customers, Daly said.

But the key ingredient is snow, and the Kottke survey reported last winter saw the lowest national average for resort snowfall since 1990–91.

The result: half of the responding ski areas opened late this season while 48 percent closed early.

“Snow obviously is a major factor in skier visits but we had some good moments during the year,” said Jenn Rudolph, spokesperson for Colorado Ski Country USA. “We aren’t expecting to break any major records but we saw some resorts have an up year and Powderhorn is a perfect example.”

Katz echoed a national sentiment when saying poor snow conditions played a major role in fewer people on the slopes.

“This was one of the most challenging weather seasons in the history of the United States ski industry marked by historically low snowfall and one of the mildest winters on record,” said Katz in his letter to stockholders. “These highly unprecedented weather patterns extended over much of the season including the key Christmas, spring break and Easter periods, adversely impacting terrain.

“Cumulative snowfall at our six resorts was down more than 50 percent over the prior season,” he said.

Vail’s Colorado resorts include Vail, Beaver Creek, Keystone and Breckenridge.


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