Resorts open, eagerly greet snow days
The Denver Broncos almost blew the best ski-marketing tool this state has.
The day Loveland Ski Resort became the first Colorado ski resort, and the first in North America, to open its lifts for the 2010–2011 ski season, the Broncos were suffering a dismal 59-14 pummeling at the hands and feet of the Oakland Raiders.
There is nothing Colorado ski resorts love to see more than the Broncos playing in a blizzard on national TV.
Phones start ringing and online reservations start jumping everywhere across the state as skiers from around the nation watch it snow in Colorado.
But when the only blizzard is a blizzard of points, well, that sound you heard was the collective sound of millions of remotes switching channels.
“I hope they didn’t turn off their TVs too early,” said a wishful Jennifer Rudolph of Colorado Ski Country USA, a ski industry marketing group. “We were able to get some video of Loveland’s opening day on the network carrying the Broncos and I hope people got to see it.”
Every bit of publicity helps in a year when the state’s ski industry is looking to benefit from a stronger economy.
The economic downturn that began several years ago was felt across the ski industry as skier numbers dropped when purse strings tightened.
Last year’s numbers, however, were a bit up over 2008–2009, a sign that boosted hopes for even more improvement this year.
Colorado Ski Country said its 22 member resorts (the Vail resorts are not members) hosted an estimated 6.74 million skier visits last ski season, an increase of 0.4 percent, about 29,000 skier visits.
Including the four Vail resorts — Vail, Keystone, Beaver Creek and Breckenridge — overall skier visits last year topped 11.86 million, an 0.8 percent increase over the previous year.
With skier visits again closing on the 12-million visit threshold, ski officials are hoping that light in the tunnel might not be a train after all.
“We’re still on the way to building ourselves back to average,” Rudolph said. “But each year it gets a little bit better.”
A late Easter, the last big ski holiday of season, might also help skier numbers, Rudolph said.
Snow, and lots of it, is the best marketing tool available, said Ryan Whaley of Keystone Resort, where 18 inches of new snow were recorded as of Monday morning.
“I’m looking out my window right now, watching it dump,” Whaley said Monday from his Summit County office. “It’s a little later this year, but we’ve had some good cold nights and we’ve been able to fire up the snow guns to guarantee some great conditions.”
The first major winter storm of the season clearly left its mark across the state.
“I’ve heard from Crested Butte, A-Basin, Sunlight and Winter Park and they’re all getting snow,” Rudolph said. “We just need to hear from someone in the southwest.”
Telluride on Monday reported 18 inches of new snow at mid-mountain.
Rudolph said meteorologists are forecasting the current La Niña conditions in the Pacific Ocean will bring more snow to the northern resorts this winter.
Last year, areas across the Southwest, including Powderhorn, Telluride, Crested Butte and Durango Mountain benefitted from the El Nino conditions that funneled moist southern storms directly at the ski resorts.
While snow conditions across the southern half of the state generally were excellent, the northern half struggled, some resorts relying on snow from hoses, not from heaven.
According to Colorado Ski Country, overall snowfall amounts statewide were down by 26 percent compared to the 10-year average.
But as Melanie Mills, president of Colorado Ski Country, noted earlier this year, any snow is welcome.
“Snow always plays a role in skier visits, especially with our in-state guests,” Mills said. “And while some resorts saw near-record amounts of snow, others relied on their expert snow maintenance staffs to provide a great product all season long.”
While no one will admit it, there occasionally can be too much snow, particularly when it’s on the roads and not the ski areas.
Arapahoe Basin opened Monday just as U.S. Highway 6 across Loveland Pass (elevation 11,990 feet) was being closed because of the weather.
“I was afraid it might affect A-Basin’s opening but it seems the crowds were pretty strong, anyway,” Rudolph said.
Whaley was happy to see the bad road conditions, at least temporarily.
“This is the first major storm causing road problems in Denver and now the rest of the country is going to know it’s snowing in Colorado,” he said. “This is the best thing that can happen to us.”
Ski areas will continue to open as conditions permit, with Keystone, Copper Mountain and Wolf Creek planning Nov. 5 openings to join Loveland and Arapahoe Basin.
Powderhorn still holds to a mid-December opening.