Vail Resorts announced a 9.8 percent decline in skier visits during its third quarter fiscal report, but for member resorts of the Colorado Ski County USA trade organization, the decline was even steeper for the season as a whole.
Skier visits totaled 6.16 million during the 2011-12 season, representing a decrease of 11.4 percent from last season, which was the fourth best season on record. Compared to the five-year average, member resort skier visits were down 11.9 percent.
Officials attribute the stalled recovery to the lack of snow, which interrupted steady growth seen since 2008-09. According to the trade organization, the winter on the Western Slope was the third driest and seventh warmest in records dating to 1895. In Colorado overall, March 2012 was the driest in more than 100 years, it was the second warmest on record.
The winter's drought and warm temperatures is rare in history - and the ski industry bounces back, like during the 1980s winter that prompted the development of snowmaking.
"Much of the ski industry in the U.S. was confronted with weather challenges last year, but several of our resorts bucked the national trend and showed signs of resilience during what was clearly an uninspiring winter," Colorado Ski Country USA president and CEO Melanie Mills said.
For example, some member resorts posted increases and even records in visitation, as well as strength in both domestic and international destination visitors, which helps soften the impacts to resort operators and resort communities.
It also helped to have strong snowmaking in place that preserved the base as natural snow was melting off, and the momentum from last year's strong season helped carry resorts through the state's weather situation. Precipitation came in the fall, allowing some resorts to open earlier than planned, but the snowfall deficit brought the momentum to a standstill midway through winter - even when snow started to fall in the middle of the season.
"We've had dry years in the past, and we'll have dry years again," Mills said. "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."
With certain assumptions in place, statewide skier visits for Colorado are estimated at more than 11 million. This estimation shows Colorado being down 9.8 percent, or approximately 1,195,000 visits, compared to last season. On a national level, skier visits overall are down 15.7 percent with the Rocky Mountain region seeing a decrease of 7.2 percent.