Slope in numbers: Fewer skiers hit slopes as Colorado snow fails to fly

Fewer skiers hit slopes as Colorado snow fails to fly

Skiers this past Christmas pause at the top of the Plunge, a black-diamond ski run at Telluride Ski Resort. The town of Telluride is 1,355 feet below and mirrors the general lack of snow seen this winter across the West.



According to Colorado Ski Country, this winter was the third-driest and seventh-warmest recorded on the Western Slope. March reportedly was the driest in more than a century.

Anyone who made a turn or two this winter at his or her favorite ski resort isn’t surprised to hear overall skier visits for Colorado were down quite a bit this past winter.

No lift lines at Crested Butte during Christmas? Skiing Prospect Bowl at Telluride and seeing only three other skiers?

Well, believe it. According to Colorado Ski Country USA, the state ski industry trade association, skier visits at the 22 Ski Country member resorts fell 11.4 percent from the 2010–11 winter, which was the state’s fourth-best on record.

An estimated 6.16 million visits were registered this past winter at Ski Country resorts, which doesn’t include the four Vail-owned Colorado resorts.

That compares to an estimated 6.94 million skier/boarder visits in 2010–11, according to Ski Country records.

Ski Country said that adding the estimated Vail total (the company hasn’t released final skier numbers) brings the statewide total to just more than 11 million skiers and snowboarders.

This spring, Vail Resorts reported skier visits for the 2011–12 ski season through April 22 declined 12.6 percent compared to the same period in the 2010–11 season.

Colorado as a whole dropped 9.8 percent, or approximately 1,195,000 visits, compared to last season, Ski Country reported.

The highest total at Ski Country resorts over the past decade was 2007–08 when more than 7.29 million visits were registered.

Nationally, skier visits this winter were down 15.7 percent with the Rocky Mountain region decreasing 7.2 percent.

As has been noted in this space before, Powderhorn Mountain Resort bucked the state and national trend, reporting earlier this spring a 7 percent increase in visits this year over the previous years.

The uptick largely was because of good snow kept skiable by a terrific slope-maintenance program and the local buzz about new owners and management team.

Otherwise, the most-given reason for the general downturn in skier visits was the well-noted lack of snow around the state.

Although most resorts picked up some good early season snow, by Christmas visitors at many areas were reporting dismal conditions during one of the winter’s peak periods.

According to Colorado Ski Country, this winter was the third-driest and seventh-warmest recorded on the Western Slope. March reportedly was the driest in more than a century.

The Ski Country report also says precipitation on the Western Slope was 43 percent below average.

“We’ve had dry years in the past, and we’ll have dry years again,” said Melanie Mills, president and CEO of Colorado Ski Country. “Not every year can be a record-breaking year, and with nary a snowflake in what is normally our snowiest month in Colorado, season visitation numbers are disappointing, but not unexpected.”

Utah also saw a decline in skier visits, according to a report Thursday from the Mountain Travel Research program, which tracks visitor stays at key resorts across the West.

Ski Utah reported the state’s 14 resorts suffered a 10 percent dip in skier visits this past season to 3.8 million day visits, the lowest number in eight years.

That’s the smallest number since 3.43 million visits were reported in 2003–04.

It’s a stark contrast to the 2010–11 season, when heavy snowfall resulted in 4.22 million visits, surpassed only by the 2007–08 season.

In May, the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) announced U.S. ski areas saw an estimated 51 million skier and snowboarder visits during the 2011–12 season.

According to the preliminary 2011–12 Kottke End of Season Survey, the U.S. ski industry experienced its most challenging season since 1991–92, when 50.8 million visits were recorded.

“Much of the ski industry in the U.S. was confronted with weather challenges last year, but several of our resorts bucked the national trend and showed signs of resilience during what was clearly an uninspiring winter,” Mills said.

The bright side of this tarnished penny: In the 1980–81 season the industry experienced a 17.6 percent drop in visits, the biggest year-over-year decline on record.

The next year, though, visits rebounded with a 22 percent increase in 1981–82.


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