Ski industry lost $2 billion because of COVID-19 pandemic, trade group reports

National trade association says skier visits fell 14% last season compared with 2018-19

Scott Condon
Aspen Times
The Breckenridge Ski Resort gondola sits empty March 16. Vail Resorts announced March 17 that most of its mountains in North America will close for the rest of the season.
Courtesy Elaine Collins

ASPEN — The U.S. ski industry lost at least $2 billion last winter because of the economic collapse from the COVID-19 crisis, a national trade association announced Wednesday.

The Denver-based National Ski Areas Association said skier visits fell nearly 14% in the 2019-20 season compared with 2018-19. Skier visits totaled about 51.1 million in the shortened season.

Resorts were forced to close in mid-March when the pandemic hit and states issued health orders requiring the closure of most businesses. The lifts stopped spinning when resorts were crammed with spring break vacationers.

Up until then, the ski industry was logging another solid season.

“Had the season continued along its track prior to the pandemic, the 2019-20 season would have been the fourth best season on record since NSAA began surveying visitation in the 1978-79 season,” the association said in a news release.

Skier visits are a standard mark of performance for the ski industry. A visit is the use of a lift ticket for any part of a day.

NSAA reported that skier visits fell in all six of its geographic regions, including the Rocky Mountains. Ski areas were open an average of 99 days this season, down from 121 days in the 2018-19 season, the association reported.

Colorado Ski Country USA, a trade association for most ski areas in the state outside of Vail Resorts, does not plan to release skier visit data this season, though it has in the past.

On June 4, publicly traded Vail Resorts released its earnings report for the third quarter of its fiscal year, February through April. That’s usually the company’s most profitable quarter, but the company took a 47.8% decline in net income during the quarter compared to the previous year. Total net revenue declined $263.9 million, or 27.5%.

Alterra Mountain Co. — which is privately owned by KSL Capital Partners, former owner of Squaw Valley Alpine Meadow, and Henry Crown and Co., owner of Aspen Snowmass — declined to release any skier visit or revenue data.

It’s unknown how the pandemic will affect the 2020-21 season. Arapahoe Basin Ski Area reopened May 27 with permission from Gov. Jared Polis. It was the only ski area in Colorado to do so. Polis said skiing is relatively safe during the pandemic because physical distancing is easy to maintain.

Precautions at A-Basin included a maximum of 600 skiers per day, physical distancing in lift lines and masks in the base area and on lifts. A-Basin closed after 12 days because of a lack of snow, but ski area officials described the short-lived reopening as a learning experience for next season.

“We know it wasn’t perfect,” spokesperson Katherine Fuller said June 4. “The demand was extraordinary, and we learned a lot. So this is really paving the way for summer and next fall.”

NSAA said the economic loss tied to COVID-19 could reach $5 billion for the U.S. ski industry if the downturn continues during the 2020-21 season.

The Summit Daily News and Vail Daily contributed to this report.

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