Nation’s skier numbers look promising |

Nation’s skier numbers look promising

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – Preliminary 2002-03 skier numbers appear to indicate a record-breaking season, the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) announced.

At its annual conference in San Diego this weekend, NSAA released a report on national skier/snowboarder days that estimates 57.6 million snowriders hit the slopes this year.

The number was produced in the Kottke National End of Season Survey, prepared by Boulder-based RRC Associates.

The previous record, set in 2000-01, was 57.3 million skier visits. The following year produced the third-highest visitor numbers, at 54.4 million. The survey and the industry define a skier or snowboarder visit as one person visiting a ski area for part of a day or more.

“Because there were many obstacles to overcome this year, we know the snowsports industry will be thrilled with these potential results,” NSAA President Michael Berry said in a press release. “But it’s important to remember that these numbers are preliminary, so we’re still cautious to call this a record until all resort results are tallied later this spring.”

The report did not include a breakdown of specific ski area and resort visitor numbers. Colorado’s ski areas visitor numbers will be released next week at Colorado Ski Country USA’s annual conference at Beaver Creek Wednesday through Friday.

“Our numbers aren’t discouraging, but we didn’t benefit as much as other parts of the country,” said Rob Perlman, Colorado Ski Country USA executive director.

The NSAA report analyzed growth trends in skier visits by regions of the country. The only area to show a decline in visitors, for example, was the Pacific Northwest, which lost 12.6 percent of its visitors over last year.

The Rocky Mountain region’s ski resorts saw 3.6 percent growth in skier visits over last year. Other areas of the country, however – those not typically known for world-class skiing and snowfall – saw even greater growth.

The Midwest saw the biggest increase in skier visits – 18.2 percent – followed by the Southeast and Northeast, with growth of 17 percent and 16.8 percent, respectively.

These regions benefited immensely from colder-than-

average winter temperatures – which aided early-season snowmaking – and outstanding snowfall. The Southeast, for instance, saw a 237 percent increase in snowfall.

Those factors couldn’t account for all the skiers’ preferences, though. The Midwest saw a 4 percent decrease over average winter snowfall.

According to Keystone Resort spokesman Mike Lee, the “post-Sept. 11” trend of staying close to home is still affecting the relatively isolated Rocky Mountain resorts.

“People want to feel safe,” Lee said. “And people want value – they’ll spend money as long as they’re getting a good deal. We’ve been looking at responding to those feelings. That’s why we dropped cancellation fees this winter. We’ve been trying to come up with ways to work with families and travelers so they feel it’s easy to travel with us. We’re working on communicating to people that there is value here and it’s easy.”

Perlman said other challenges prevented Rocky Mountain ski areas from getting their share of the skier numbers growth. Perlman said the financial difficulties of United Airlines, Colorado’s major air carrier, and other airlines affected skier visits to a region dependent on destination visitors

The mid-March blizzard also prevented people from reaching the ski areas, he said.

“Then you look at snowfall in these other regions, and they haven’t had consistent snowfall for years, and then they get double-digit increases in operating days,” Perlman said. “The Midwest was open 23 percent more days than last year, the Southeast was open 31 percent more. They’re going to have more numbers just in terms of operating days.”

Perlman said the trade association will focus its marketing this year on recapturing the share of skiers Colorado has lost to other regions. He said “hard dollars” will be spent in the markets that produce the most destination visitors – Illinois, Texas, California, New York and Florida.

“We just need to get the message out there,” Perlman said.

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