ASPEN - The Aspen Skiing Co. has managed to buck a national ski-industry trend this season.
Skico's skier visits were up 2.1 percent from Thanksgiving through Feb. 29 at Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass and Buttermilk compared with the same period last season, spokesman Jeff Hanle said Wednesday.
"All in all, we're very happy to be where we're at," he said.
Meanwhile, the ski industry overall is taking a beating, mostly because of a lack of snow in California and parts of the Northeast.
"I think we will be down double digits on a percentage basis," said Michael Berry, president of the Lakewood-based National Ski Areas Association.
The ski industry set a record last season with 60.54 million skier visits. Berry said that at this point, it looks like the decrease will be in the low double digits. Snow conditions improved in many parts of the country starting in January. Nevertheless, it is nearly impossible to offset losses of skier visits from earlier in the season, Berry said.
Vail Resorts reported Tuesday that skier visits at its four Colorado resorts were down 7 percent from the start of the season through Feb. 26. The company operates Vail Mountain, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone. The trend at the resorts lately has reflected the improving snow conditions, said Vail Resorts spokeswoman Kelly Ladyga.
Colorado Ski Country USA, a state trade organization, won't have cumulative statistics for its members until next week.
Aspen Skiing Co. was able to make up an early deficit in skier visits, in large part because of improving conditions. At the end of December, Skico's numbers were down from the same period the prior year. A windstorm on the day of New Year's Eve hammered business on what should have been one of the busiest days of the season. Skico's early-season numbers also were down because Roaring Fork Valley residents weren't using their passes as often because of a lack of snow, according to Hanle.
That changed when mid-January rolled around: The snow started falling, so the locals started skiing, Hanle said.
"We're making up a little ground on pass use," he said.
Destination business, from people staying overnight, has been "strong," Hanle said. The resorts also benefited from strong international business, especially from Australia and Brazil.
"January and February were good months, no doubt about it," Hanle said.
He said he doubts that too many other resorts in Colorado or the country can claim as good of a middle section of the season as Aspen and Snowmass.
"That's a huge testament to everything going on in the resort and the community," Hanle said. Skico snowmakers and groomers did their best to make the coverage suitable despite a lack of early snow, he said. And numerous businesses throughout the town worked hard to provide a good experience for travelers.
Aspen and Snowmass provided "a superior product in a pretty tough year," Hanle said.
Whether it's possible to maintain the modest gain is a tricky question. Snow conditions have improved to the point where valley residents and second-home owners are hitting the slopes more often. However, when snow was more sparse, the calls from prospective visitors dwindled. Occupancy levels at tourist accommodations were down for the first half of March, Hanle said. They are stronger for the second half of the month and into April.
Skico boosted its marketing efforts in January and February to get the word out about snowstorms and improved conditions. The company ran half-page advertisements in the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune to tout 7 feet of snow in seven weeks, according to Hanle. It's also promoted various spring specials. Now Skico is looking for additional cooperation from Mother Nature to get through the season. Buttermilk closes April 8. Aspen Mountain and Snowmass close April 15. Aspen Highlands closes April 22.
"We just need the weather to be normal from here on out," Hanle said.