Overall the marketing group’s 22 member resorts hosted an estimated 6.16 million skier visits during the 2011-12 ski season. This represents a decrease of 11.4 percent, or approximately 790,000 skier visits, compared to last season, which was the fourth best season on record.
Compared to the five-year average, CSCUSA member resort skier days were down 11.9 percent. CSCUSA blamed the decline on the poor snow year, which it said had “interrupted the recovery resorts had been building since 2008/09.”
Local ski areas bucked the trend. Grand Mesa’s Powderhorn Resort showed an increase of 5 percent over 2010-11, which was itself a strong season, according to general manager Daren Cole. “We were very fortunate this year with skier days,” he said of the area’s first year under new ownership. Powderhorn was purchased at auction last August by former Vail exec Andy Daley and the three Gart brothers of retail sporting goods renown.
In a year characterized, in Cole’s words, “by groomers and snowmaking,” not only were Powderhorn’s skier days up, but “season pass holders were up 15 percent, and advance pass sales this spring are up 27 percent” from last year, Cole said.
Powderhorn prefers not to reveal actual skier-day numbers, but figures at the time of sale last August suggested a typical season of about 75,000 skier visits.
Kim Oyler, director of communications for Durango Mountain Resort, reported skier visits at the former Purgatory ski area this winter that were “similar to last year.” She said the resort counted an “overall increase in spending” by those skiers, in the realms of lodging, food, retail and rental.
She attributed the relatively strong showing, compared with the statewide decline, to Purgatory’s “good snow early. We were able to be 100 percent open for the holidays.” And, she said, “We had solid conditions up to closing day in early April.” Many Front Range and northern Colorado ski areas struggled with limited early-season snow.
Telluride also broadcast its good early-season snow numbers, which no doubt helped the season-long bottom line. Despite a sharp drop-off in new snow later in the winter, according the Telluride Ski and Golf’s Director of Communications Tom Watkinson, the total skier numbers were “very slightly up” from last year.
Extreme weather affected much of the nation in 2011-12, according the CSCUSA’s Jennifer Rudolph. Coast to coast, the warm, dry winter resulted in a 15.7 percent drop in skier days. Utah was down about 10 percent. Overall, the Rockies showed a 7.2 percent retreat. Thanks to a fickle La Niña weather pattern, only the Pacific Northwest among the nation’s ski regions, received average or better snowfall.
Colorado’s Western Slope experienced its third driest and seventh warmest winter in records going back to 1895, according to Rudolph. Precipitation on the Western Slope was 43 percent below average, and down every month of the winter. “In Colorado overall, March 2012 was the driest in more than 100 years, and we experienced the second warmest March on record.”
CSCUSA President and CEO Melanie Mills told the meeting, “Fortunately, seasons such as the one just ended have proved to be historically rare, and the ski industry has exhibited a remarkable ability to bounce back after poor snow years in the past.”
Mills said the series of storms that hit Colorado in February, while breaking several single-day snowfall records, were not enough to reverse skiers’ psychology. “Perception of an underperforming winter was already set in skiers’ minds,” she said. “We’ve had dry years in the past, and we’ll have dry years again. 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.”
Skier visits are the metric used to track participation in skiing and snowboarding. A skier visit represents a person participating in the sport of skiing or snowboarding for any part of one day at a mountain resort.