Colorado high on skier visits |

Colorado high on skier visits

SUMMIT COUNTY – In a year that saw war, a feeble economy, airline bankruptcies and SARS, somehow, some way, Colorado posted its fourth-highest number of skier visits in history.

The 2002-03 ski season saw an increase of nearly 4.3 percent for a total of 11.6 million overall visits in the state. Nationwide, the Associated Press reported the National Ski Areas Association as saying ski areas are expected to post a record tally of 57.6 million.

“All things considered, in the new world we live in and based on the previous challenges we faced, we consider that a pretty successful result,” said Rob Perlman, Colorado Ski Country USA (CSCUSA) president and chief executive officer.

After promising early-season snowfalls kick-started the season, visits tapered off as nationwide travel stalled – thanks to uncertainties surrounding Iraq and a massive spring blizzard that closed Interstate 70, one of the main conduits between the Front Range and several ski areas.

The numbers for “destination resorts” within the state reflected these realities as they brought up the rear with a 2.63 percent growth rate. “Front Range destination resorts,” a category that includes all Summit County ski areas, saw a 4.43 percent increase. Far and away the largest boom was at “Front Range resorts” (category title not a reflection of location) Eldora, Loveland and Ski Cooper, which collectively saw a jump of 14.2 percent.

“The trend is that people are staying closer to home,” Perlman said.

This seems to have helped some local ski mountains substantially.

Arapahoe Basin has already more than doubled its visits over last season, according to the Associated Press, and is still open. Copper Mountain, which will release its official tally at the end of the month, had its “best year ever,” resort spokeswoman Beth Jahnigen said. She noted that the resort surpassed its 2001-02 record of just over one million visitors.

Loveland Ski Area, which has also not posted its final numbers, showed a 25 percent increase in visits, according to marketing director Kevin Wright.

“This was the year for Loveland,” he said.

Bucking the trend were Breckenridge and Keystone, both of which posted slight declines in the number of visits. Keystone saw nearly 1.04 million visitors, down 2.8 percent from the previous year. Breckenridge, which saw a record 1.47 million visits in 2001-02, experienced a decline of three percent to slightly more than 1.42 million.

Breckenridge and Keystone resorts chief Roger McCarthy said the drop-off in destination visitors had hurt the two areas but that Breckenridge had still posted an increase in revenue, primarily the result of increased pricing. Seemingly undaunted by the decline, he predicted a rebound in 2003-04 and said he’d be surprised if Breckenridge did not top 1.5 million visits.

“I’ve been in the business 30 years, and I’ve never seen such a lineup of stuff that went against us in this past year,” he said. “(Still), I think we had a very good year in Breck.

“I think we’re going to see (the destination market) come back,” he said. “If that’s the bottom in Keystone and Breckenridge, man oh man, that’s a hell of a base to build on.”

Aidan Leonard can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or by e-mail at

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