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July 19, 2010
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Colorado ski trade group keeps business info secret

ASPEN - A trade association for Colorado's ski industry has decided it will no longer disclose how much business its members log each season.

Colorado Ski Country USA has traditionally provided the number of skier and snowboard rider visits that each of its members recorded over the course of the ski season. But member resorts suggested a change of policy to Colorado Ski Country staff. And no objections were raised at a recent meeting of the trade group's board of directors, said Melanie Mills, president and CEO of the trade group.

"We had a number of members, it wasn't just one, that asked why are we doing this," she said, referring to releasing skier visits. "No one could say why."

So starting this spring, Colorado Ski Country changed a decades-long policy of disclosure. Instead of providing information about the skier visits at each of its 22 member resorts, the association only gave out the cumulative total.

In addition, all of the historic data of individual resorts' skier visits from past seasons was erased from Colorado Ski Country's website.

Dave Bellack, Aspen Skiing Co. attorney and chairman of Colorado Ski Country's board of directors, said the change was sought for competitive reasons. Representatives of some resorts argued that their in-state competitors would copy their marketing and other business tactics if they showed growth in skier visits. They wanted the number more closely held.

Neither Mills nor Bellack would disclose the resorts that raised the concern over skier-visit disclosure. "It wasn't us," Bellack said, in reference to Skico.

Nevertheless, Skico is playing along. It refused to release its skier visits, cumulatively or at its four individual ski areas, for the first time in nearly two decades this spring. The company claimed it posted a 4.3 percent increase over the reported visits the prior season. That would place its visits at 1,422,710 for last winter.

Vail Resorts - which operates Vail Mountain, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone - continues to release skier-visit data. The publicly held company is not a member of Colorado Ski Country.

The secrecy by the bulk of Colorado resorts comes at a time when the state ski industry is struggling with the recession. Growth was negligible last season, with skier visits up only 0.4 percent over the prior season for Colorado Ski Country's members. That came on the heels of a 7 percent drop - about 500,000 fewer visits - in the 2008-09 season.

Bellack said the recession was only tied to the change in policy on skier visits "in the most indirect sense."

"The recession inspired and compelled everybody to look at how they operate their business," he said.

Bellack noted that the ski industry went from its best season ever in 2006-07 to one of its toughest seasons in just two years.

"You could afford to be complacent in 2006, and now you can't be complacent about anything," he said. In this case, some member resorts feel it would be best to guard their skier visits, he added.

Mills downplayed the significance in the change of how Colorado Ski Country handles skier visits. The numbers don't reflect revenues or profits, so their value is limited, she said.

However, the measure of visitation has been the ski industry standard for years.

"Times change. It's a competitive world out there," Mills said.

There might be a hitch in the plans to keep the numbers secret, though. Most of the 22 resorts in the trade association lease lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service for their ski operations.

Ken Kowynia, winter sports administrator of the Forest Service's regional office in Lakewood, was surprised to hear about Colorado Ski Country's new policy of withholding skier visits. "It's never been an issue," he said.

He traditionally collects figures on skier visits by contacting winter sports administrators in the individual forests, who collect the data from the resorts or Colorado Ski Country. Kowynia said he was uncertain if the Forest Service, as landlord, can force the ski resorts to supply the data "if push came to shove."

The federal agency is more concerned about collecting information about revenues from the ski areas since that factors into the complex formula used to set ski area fees for use of public lands.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Jul 19, 2010 11:20AM Published Jul 19, 2010 11:19AM Copyright 2010 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.