The final analysis of the 2017-18 ski and snowboard season is in, and while snowsport visits - the measure of lift tickets sold - in the U.S. were down over the previous year, the industry is finding some reason for optimism, according to the recently published Kottke End of Season Study.
The 53.3 million U.S. skier visits last season were about 1.5 million fewer than 2016-17, and showed regional variations. During the past four seasons, skier visits nationally have ranged from 52.8 million to 54.8 million. The high water mark was 60.5 million in 2007-08, a figure that was matched in 2010-11.
A summary of the findings, published in the fall 2018 National Ski Areas Association Journal, used data from 230 ski areas, both individually owned and those owned by larger corporations. All told, there were 472 resorts operating last year in the U.S., which is down by nine areas from the prior year, according to the report.
“In recent seasons, the fluctuation in the number of operating ski areas has been primarily due to cycles of closure and re-opening of small resorts, in part because of local weather conditions, or interest among locals in re-opening their community ski hill,” noted the Kottke survey, which is now in its 39th year.
The Rocky Mountain region recorded 20.7 million skier visits, down 4.3 percent from 2016-17, when 21.7 million visits were logged. While Colorado Ski Country USA member resorts reported a drop of about 2 percent last season, business was down about 7 percent year-over-year at the four Aspen Skiing Co. resorts.
A slow start to snowfall hurt the first half of the season, though Aspen/Snowmass “picked up steam” during the second half, Jeff Hanle, SkiCo vice president of communications noted last spring.
When computed as an annual average and using 27 years of Kottke records, snowfall was down 9 percent across the country last season, the report noted.
The Rocky Mountains, down 14 percent and Pacific Southwest, down 29 percent, saw the largest annual declines; snowfall was up 16 percent in the Northeast and 5 percent in the Midwest last year, according to the report.
Weather and snowfall in both the mountain and key markets are among the most notable potential challenges. Other business challenges that were listed included climate change, low unemployment, demographics and rising costs.
Among the other takeaways produced by the report were factors identified by ski areas as having the biggest potential impact on business over the next five years.
“Opportunities include increased season pass sales, snowmaking upgrades, real estate development, summer visitation/revenue, reciprocal ticket products, growing population in key markets and a strong economy,” according to the report.
Also noted were capital expenditures as an indicator of future confidence by resorts.
“Altogether, the survey respondents’ total expenditures on capital improvements increased by 29.2 percent from 2016-17 ($274 million) to 2017-18 ($354.1 million). Capital expenditures are expected to grow again to $392 million in 2018-19 (up 10.7 percent), according to the Kottke End of Season Survey.