ASPEN - Aspen Skiing Co. officials felt they were "on the right track" this season after suffering through one of the worst winters in years in 2008-09.
Customer visits probably increased a small amount, business was more robust for the ski and snowboard school, and travelers' wallets "have loosened up," Skico Senior Vice President David Perry said Friday.
"I would say it met expectations for us," he said, touting "slight improvement and stabilization."
However, Perry stressed that the economy remains weak, and Aspen-Snowmass has a long way to go to recover from the recession.
"We're not celebrating by any stretch of the imagination," he said.
The regular ski season ended Sunday although the Skico extended skiing for the last two weekends of April on Aspen Mountain because snow conditions are so good.
Skico's skier visits were down 7.6 percent from the prior season to 1.36 million in 2007-08. The company forecast "flat" visits this season, but it appears the numbers will be slightly better. Visits aren't released by Colorado resorts until June.
On a national level, the ski industry went through a "rebuilding" season, according to Michael Berry, president of the Denver-based National Ski Areas Association.
"My gut tells me that actually it will be a pretty good year," Berry said.
National visits improved from last season's 57.3 million but won't approach the 60.5 million logged in 2007-08, according to Berry. "I think it will be in the top three," he said.
California resorts had an "excellent" season, he said. They received snow at critical times, without paralyzing access from their major markets.
The winter was a mixed bag for Pacific Northwest resorts. Some had excellent conditions while temperatures were too warm for others, as viewers learned about Canadian resorts during the Olympics.
The inter-mountain West, including the Rockies, benefited from good snowfall during the second half of the season, but they were hurt during a dry January.
Midwest resorts had their typical solid season but they account for a small number of visits. Some southern New England and Pennsylvania resorts had some of their best snow conditions ever, which boosted business, Berry said.
Preseason expectations were that resorts within an easy drive of major metropolitan markets would fare pretty well. That appeared to hold true. "Destination skiers came back to some extent," Berry said, referring to travelers who require an overnight stay.
Skico's Perry said the company's special marketing programs "appear to have paid off." Various special promotions were offered throughout the season. They have a special designation that is cited when customers make reservations, so the success of the programs can be tracked.
The Skico's preliminary estimate is that it sold about the same number of season passes as the prior season but generated more skier days, "which was a pleasant surprise," Perry said. Revenues from pass sales dropped, in large part because the price of the full-season pass fell.
While full-season passholders were pleased with lower prices, critics demanded a return of the two-day-per-week pass and the seven-day Classic Pass. Skico staff won't analyze the success of the pass program or consider if changes should be made until summer, Perry said. Pass prices are typically announced in August.
Perry's other observations from the ski season included:
• Snow conditions were consistently good even if there weren't enough big dumps to satisfy powder hounds. He said there were "virtually no complaints" about terrain conditions from tourists.
• Conditions held up so well during dry parts of the season because of the work of the groomers. There is a perception that Sno-cat operators simply guide their machines up and down the slopes and till the snow, Perry said. In reality, they do a lot more, like pushing small bits of snow from one part of the mountain to another and pulling it from stashes that can spare it. "They have to repair the slopes every night," Perry said.
There were times when the coverage was so thin that the Sno-cat drivers couldn't find stashes with extra snow. They were still able to create a surface that shielded the thin cover.
"The grooming crew and mechanics all deserve the community's thanks," Perry said.
• Occupancy was flat or slightly better than last winter at the tourist accommodations of Aspen and Snowmass Village. The average daily rate fell as tourist accommodations were forced to drop prices to lure customers.
• Increased competition among air carriers decreased fares and increased the number of flyers. Passenger boardings at Aspen-Pitkin County Airport were up 14 percent for the winter through March, Perry said. Frontier's parent, Republic Airlines, has committed to service to Aspen next winter, according to Perry.
• Special events were "the bright side in the recovery," Perry said. Attendance at women's World Cup ski races was the best in years and the Winter X Games set an attendance record. More important than numbers was the mood of the crowd at the various competitions, concerts and major events that the Skico sponsored.
"There was a higher level of energy and enthusiasm surrounding the events," Perry said.
All-in-all, Perry said, Skico executives hoped to see some stability occur this ski season, and it happened. "The last one-and-a-half years we've gone through a roller coaster of economic emotions," he said.