Season got off to a slow start with skier visits

by Curtis Wackerle, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer
Skier visits at the Aspen Skiing Co.’s four mountains were off about 8 percent from opening day through Dec. 31, while statewide resorts saw 11.5 percent less traffic than last season, according to industry officials.

While every resort in Colorado struggled with poor snow conditions in November and early December — which caused Aspen Highlands to open six days later than scheduled — Aspen/Snowmass outperformed the state as a whole, SkiCo spokesman Jeff Hanle noted.

Cumulatively for the 22 ski areas represented by Colorado Ski Country USA (CSCUSA) — which do not include Vail Resorts properties — this season’s 11.5 percent dip in opening-day-to-New-Year’s-Eve skier visits follows a 10.65 percent decline for the same period last season.

However, following the holidays last year, “things just continued to get worse,” Hanle said. This season, advance bookings are looking better.

According to Bill Tomcich of Stay Aspen Snowmass, the resort’s central booking agency, February is pacing “double digits” ahead in Snowmass, while Aspen is up over last year for the month, but not by as much. Industry wide, advance bookings for February are 9 percent ahead of last year, he said.

Locally, March is pacing a few points ahead of last year, but last year also “wasn’t all that good,” Tomcich said.

“We still have some rooms to sell in March,” Tomcich said, adding that sales teams are preparing “a lot of promotional activity” to sell spring break ski trips.

With last year’s low snowfall, many skiers and boarders are waiting until later in the season to book their vacations, when conditions are likely to be better, Hanle said.

Statewide, the ski industry last season never recovered from the slow start, with year-end skier visit numbers down an average of 11.4 percent for CSCUSA resorts. Aspen resorts saw 1.8 percent fewer skier visits, again outperforming the industry.

CSCUSA, a nonprofit trade group, releases skier visit numbers at multiple points during the year, and made its most recent announcement on Friday. SkiCo discloses its skier visit data each time CSCUSA publicizes the statewide numbers.  

 This season, dry conditions held down demand as ski resorts opened for business. On Aspen Mountain, top-to-bottom skiing was not possible until early December, since there was not enough natural snow to cover areas where SkiCo can’t make snow.

According to a CSCUSA press release, early-season visits are “largely fueled by in-state visitors.”

“An unseasonably warm October and November kept many Coloradans from tallying lots of ski days,” Melanie Mills, president and CEO of CSCUSA, said in the release. “Snow did not arrive in earnest until mid-December, but when it came, it was in time for in-state and out-of-state guests to enjoy wonderful wintery holidays at resorts.”

Hanle said holiday skier numbers in Aspen were close to last season, but the way the holidays fell on the calendar — with Christmas and New Year’s on a Tuesday — shortened the window in which people were taking ski vacations.

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.

curtis@aspendailynews.com