Colorado ski industry hits all-time attendance total in 2015-16

Colorado Ski Country USA (CSCUSA) member Copper Mountain Resort was one of two Summit County ski areas to extend its season by a weekend due to the favorable spring conditions. A longer season for it and Arapahoe Basin Ski Area offered more chances for skiers to add to the record attendance mark for the state set during the 2015-16 season.
Tripp Fay / Copper Mountain Resort |

The state’s ski industry is alive and well, and once again hitting new heights.

Across its 21 member resorts, trade association Colorado Ski Country USA (CSCUSA) announced at its annual meeting late last week that the 2015-16 season set a new mark as its best on record. The total of 7.4 million skier visits — the industry’s standard metric for tracking participation — tops the previous all-time high from 2013-14, when 7.1 million skiers and snowboarders passed through the gates at the majority of Colorado’s ski areas.

“In looking at the end-of-season numbers, we just said ‘Wow,’” said Melanie Mills, CSCUSA’s president and CEO. “This has really been big. The cat’s out of the bag that we have this product.”

Vail Resorts, Inc., which accounts for the state’s other four resorts — Beaver Creek Resort, Breckenridge Ski Resort, Keystone Resort and Vail Mountain Resort — is not represented by CSCUSA but reported gains of its own during its third-quarter fiscal results meeting this past Thursday, June 9. The Broomfield, Colorado-based company does not release state- or resort-specific data, but, spanning its 12 total winter destinations in six states and Australia, it detailed a nearly 14-percent rise in skier visits, in addition to more than an 18-percent increase in net income over the same period the year before.

“Our visits were up every period this winter and trended up all season long. It really is a sign of strength for the industry.”Melanie Mills CSCUSA’s president and CEO

“Our Colorado resorts continued to deliver outstanding results, with growth in visitation and revenue above our record prior year,” Rob Katz, Vail Resorts’ CEO, said during the conference call. “We are very pleased with our performance in the quarter and for the entirety of the 2015-16 U.S. ski season.”

Mills attributed the historical feat to a number of ingredients. The strong early storms helped set the tone for locals just the same as out-of-town travelers. A weeks-long dry spell in February ultimately didn’t have much an impact either, she said, because the flurries were otherwise well-timed the rest of the season, even if it was just about an average year across the state for snowfall.

She also pointed to a strong economy both within the state and nationally during the winter months helping to boost attendance, on top of Colorado having a reputation as a premier ski vacation destination throughout the country. This new data showed a 24-percent share of the United States’ skier market for the state, up from 22 percent during that previous record year.

Other factors that may have contributed to breaking the prior high mark include improvements with traffic flow on Interstate-70, consistently low gas prices and the Easter holiday falling at the tail end of March. The fact that a big dumping of snow arrived to Summit County about a week earlier, blasting the area with double-digit figures in a 24-hour period, didn’t hurt.

March is traditionally the snowiest month for the region, which entails five ski areas — Breck and Keystone, as well as Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, Copper Mountain Resort and Loveland Ski Area. A strong April where Loveland at one point reported a haul of 33 inches over 72 hours, A-Basin 28 inches, Breck 26 inches and Copper 21 inches in that same time frame (Keystone was closed by that point of the season) fueled additional visits.

The sporadic dustings still fell through May, and, all combined, it led to both Copper and A-Basin extending their respective seasons by an extra weekend. Copper officially closed on Sunday, April 24, while the Basin finally shut its lifts down for good just this past weekend, on Sunday, June 12.

Up until last year, Vail Resorts still provided its visitation numbers, which allowed CSCUSA to report an estimated 12.6 million skiers during that 2013-14 season. That said, by pulling together statistics from various information sources, including Vail’s public announcements, the state’s ski association is certain that sum was surpassed for a brand new grand total.

“This year,” explained Mills, “based on the performance of our membership across the state, of the overall region and the statements made by Vail Resorts — that their Colorado visits were up substantially — we’re quite confident that we exceeded the 13-million mark for the very first time.”

Minor adjustments are made to the numbers each year for a confirmed final total after, for example, outside retailers return some of their unsold lift tickets to individual resorts. CSCUSA’s meeting was also held a few days before A-Basin had even closed, but the trade group feels positive the estimate will hold up. And that’s a good indicator of the ski year, as well as the prospects of Colorado’s primary winter tourism draw moving forward.

“Our visits were up every period this winter,” said Mills, “and trended up all season long. It really is a sign of strength for the industry in our state and a reflection of our members, of the incredible guest service that they provide, and of the skiing product that we are lucky to have. All the men and women in the industry are part of a successful season like this.”

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