Skier visits through Dec. 31 at Aspen Skiing Co.’s four mountains are about on par with last year’s early season, which saw a slight decline from the previous winter, SkiCo spokesman Jeff Hanle said.
While official numbers for the first period of the ski season, defined as opening day through Dec. 31, are expected to be released next week by Colorado Ski Country USA (CSCUSA), Hanle estimated that the lack of snowfall early on hampered visitation. A skier visit represents a person participating in the sport of skiing or snowboarding for any part of one day at a mountain resort.
And with last season’s dismal snowfall, some out-of-town skiers still had a hangover of sorts and either waited to book or made reservations to visit for later this season.
“We had, as you can imagine, like the rest of the state, a slow start,” Hanle said.
Once snow started falling in mid-December, the phones began to ring and business picked up. Hanle reported that the holiday week in between Christmas and New Year’s was strong, particularly from Dec. 27 to Jan. 31.
“The holiday period was on pace with last year,” Hanle said, adding that those who were in town spent a respectful amount of money at on-mountain restaurants and on ski lessons.
“All of our ancillary business did well,” he said.
The way the holidays fell, with Christmas and New Year’s Day on a Tuesday, people booked shorter trips, Hanle said.
Business and skier visits tapered off around Jan. 5 and the resort is now experiencing the typical January lull.
Hanle said February and March look good in terms of advanced ticket sales and reservations.
“February is a crucial month for us in the ski business,” he said.
Hanle noted that because of the lack of snow last year, a lot of people pushed their trips to later in the season, when there is typically a deeper base.
Luckily in December and through the holiday season, Aspen/Snowmass received more than 2 feet of snow, so visitors hopefully were going home telling their friends and family about the conditions.
“When people were here, it was snowing and town looked beautiful,” Hanle said. “All in all, a more positive message was being brought back to people.”
Last year, SkiCo reported skier visits being down 1.8 percent from the previous season. Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass and Buttermilk logged about 1.33 million skier visits for the 2011-12 season, according to SkiCo.
SkiCo did better than most other CSCUSA resorts, which were off as a whole by 11.4 percent during the last ski season, according to the trade group.
Usually during peak season, SkiCo’s four mountains can hit as many as 20,000 paid skier visits per day. On Dec. 30, 2011, the highest single-day total was around 17,000 skiers and riders, according to SkiCo.
Hanle could not provide numbers for this past holiday week or the early season but said there is room for improvement.
“We haven’t made up all that ground,” he said.
Craig Bannister, communications manager for CSCUSA, said the deadline for its 22 member resorts in Colorado to submit their skier visits through Dec. 31 is at the end of this week. He said he expects the not-for-profit trade association representing those resorts to release the numbers next week.
“It was pretty dry in the beginning of the year so we are expecting them to be down,” Bannister said.
The resorts represented by CSCUSA — which do not include Vail Resorts mountains — report their skier visits three times a year. The next cycle runs through the end of February.