An estimated 54.7 million skiers hit the slopes this winter, up 3.7 percent | AspenTimes.com

An estimated 54.7 million skiers hit the slopes this winter, up 3.7 percent

Staff report

A skier carves powder during the 2016-17 ski season. Skier and snowboard rider visits increased by nearly 2 million this winter, according to an estimate by National Ski Areas Association. Many areas of the country had more snow than average.

Nearly 2 million more skiers and snowboarders hit the slopes at U.S. ski resorts this winter than last season, thanks in large part to heavy snow throughout the western part of the country.

There were an estimated 54.7 million skier and snowboarder visits during the 2016-17 season compared with 52.8 million the prior season, according to National Ski Areas Association. That is an increase of 3.7 percent.

"Across the country, it was a season of contradictions," Michael Berry, president of the ski association, said in a prepared statement. "We had more snow this season in the California Sierra Mountains than the previous four seasons combined. And yet Chicago recorded its first-ever snowless January and February in more than 146 years."

Snow patterns, as expected, influenced customer turnout.

The Pacific Northwest region is estimated to have its best season ever with 4.4 million visits. The Rocky Mountain Region, which includes Aspen and Snowmass, logged its second-strongest winter with 21.7 million skier visits.

Aspen Skiing Co. will release the percentage that its skier visits grew or dropped in June.

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Ski areas in the Northeast Regional rebounded from a tough season in 2015-16 with 27 percent growth this season to 11.8 million skier and snowboarder visits.

"Even after one or two winters of less than great snow, skiers come back in droves when Mother Nature cooperates, and we consistently see that season after season," Berry said.

Average resort snowfall increased by 36 percent nationally, which contributed to ski areas being open an extra week on average. The increased length of the operating season was most pronounced in the Southeast (23 days longer) and Northeast (15 days longer) regions, according to the ski association.

There were 479 ski areas operating for the season, up from 464 the prior year.

The National Ski Areas Association, a trade association based in the Denver area, also reported that a strong Christmas period and spring break contributed to the overall position season. Skier visits were up 30 percent nationally in December and 4 percent in March compared with the prior season.

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