The U.S. ski industry owes Mother Nature a favor.
The National Ski Areas Association reported Wednesday night that skier and snowboard rider visits were up about 11 percent this season to an estimated 56.6 million. That was the largest season-to-season gain in 30 years, said the association, which is based in Lakewood.
Plentiful snowfall in March also helped Aspen Skiing Co. exceed last season’s skier and rider visits, according to spokesman Jeff Hanle. Skico, like the industry as a whole, started slow but picked up steam as the season — and the snow — went along.
Skico was down 8 percent in visits as of Dec. 31 compared with the prior season. It whittled the deficit to 2 percent by the end of February.
“We were able to gain that ground back and surpass last year,” Hanle said. No specific numbers have been tabulated yet, he said. The entire 2011-12 season was plagued by poor snow conditions. Skico ended up down 1.7 percent in visits at its four ski areas.
This season got off to a slow start but many resorts experienced a strong period between Christmas and New Year’s Day as well as a good showing during Presidents Day weekend and throughout March, the trade association reported.
In an interview with The Aspen Times in March, association president Michael Berry summed up the ski season as: “Slow start, strong finish, average or slightly above average year.”
The ski industry set a record with 60.54 million skier and rider visits in 2010-11, when heavy snow blanketed many parts of the country during the winter. The visits plunged to 51 million during the dry winter of 2011-12.
This season’s turnaround was due to good snowfall in many parts of the country, Berry said in the earlier interview. The information released by the trade association Wednesday night said 78 percent of ski resorts across the country indicated they gained visits this season. The median was a 10.6 percent increase in visits.
The Rocky Mountain region’s resorts showed the least impressive gain. “Visits were up in all regions, with the biggest rebounds seen for the Pacific Southwest, up 20.5 percent,” the association said in a statement, “Meanwhile the Northwest was up 20.3 percent, and the Southeast was up 17.2 percent. Impressive gains were also recorded in the Midwest, up 11.5 percent, and Pacific Northwest, up 7.5 percent. The Rocky Mountain (region) was up 1.9 percent over the 2011-12 season.”
On a national scale, resorts were up 14 percent from Feb. 19 through March 24, and 25 percent from March 25 to closings, the association reported. In other words, ski season ended with a bang.
Hanle said Skico’s four ski areas experienced a strong March, particularly the last week and into April. March used to be the strongest month for Aspen-Snowmass, but it has petered out a bit in recent seasons. This year, the spring-break crowd was back in force, Hanle said.
The national trade association’s final report will be released in July. Colorado Ski Country USA, a state trade association, releases a report on the performance of its 22 members each June. Vail Resorts doesn’t belong to Colorado Ski Country USA, but releases its skier visits separately. It announced in April that visits at its four resorts in Colorado and three in California were up 5.5 percent. It operates Vail Mountain, Beaver Creek, Keystone and Breckenridge in Colorado.