Aspen holds steady in skier visits |

Aspen holds steady in skier visits

ASPEN Holiday-season weather impeded transportation to the valley by land and by air, but it couldn’t reverse four years of sustained growth for the Aspen Skiing Co.The Skico reported Thursday that its skier-visit numbers this season were nearly identical to those in 2005-06, a season widely regarded as the best in recent memory. A total of 1,444,647 skiers and snowboarders visited the Skico’s four mountains last winter – just 156 fewer than 2005-06, when the Skico reported a fourth consecutive year of substantial gains.”It’s only natural that we compare this year to the year before – our memories are short,” Skico Senior Vice President David Perry said Thursday. “The year before was just about perfect. This year we had positives and negatives, we struggled through canceled flights and travel delays and severe weather at inopportune times. We have to be positive about being flat with last year.”Statewide, the numbers were equally promising. While the nation’s visits decreased 7 percent, the direct result of marginal snowfall and warm weather throughout much of the country, Colorado’s 26 resorts drew 12.56 million visits. That number is 0.22 percent higher than 2005-06, and set a state record for a second straight year.Three of four resorts for the Skico saw a rise in visits. Leading the way was Snowmass, which recorded 769,570 – an increase of 1,560. The numbers mitigated the concerns of Snowmass Village residents and local business owners, who believed Base Village construction would drive skiers away.”I think a lot of people want to be a part of something new,” Perry said. “All these improvements are attracting skiers. People will put up with disruptions caused by construction to ski a great mountain. We’re starting to see the effects of our investment.”Aspen Mountain hosted 327,750 skiers and boarders, an increase of 3,282. Aspen Highlands maintained the momentum and buzz it generated with the opening of Deep Temerity in 2005 by generating 193,496 visits – 252 more than the previous season.Buttermilk saw a drop of 5,250 visits to 153,831, attributable to the X Games, Perry said. When Buttermilk becomes an event venue, skier traffic diverts to the other areas.”This is great news considering where we thought we’d end up,” Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said Thursday. “We’re on par with a strong four or five years of growth. It’s a pleasant surprise.” The state’s destination resorts – those relying mainly on customers traveling for overnight stays – hosted 85,000 more guests than last season, a 7.4 percent increase over the five-year average. The category includes Skico resorts, Crested Butte, Durango, Howelsen Hill, Silverton Mountain, Steamboat, Telluride and Wolf Creek. Hanle estimated that the weather that hit Colorado at key times during the holiday season, closing roads and canceling flights, cost the resort 30,000 visits. And skier visit totals by late February were 2.5 percent lower than at the same point in 2005-06.”We never like to complain about snow, but we did,” Hanle said. Couple that with periodic dry spells – December’s and March’s snow totals were well below average – and things looked bleak. Hanle wasn’t concerned.”We still felt like we had the momentum,” he said. “Our marketing was still out there full-force, the buzz was still out there. We’ve got the events and the strong brand name.”And it had snow, an assertion many resorts worldwide couldn’t make. Snow was so scarce in Europe that multiple men’s and women’s World Cup events were postponed or canceled. A total of 318 inches of snow fell here from October through April – 45 inches fewer than in 2005-06 – which helped attract more international visitors, Hanle said. There’s reason to expect the company’s half-decade-long trend of success to continue. Skico is slated to spend $22.5 million before the 2007-08 season, the bulk of which will facilitate continued improvements at Snowmass. Skico’s ongoing relationship with the X Games and recent news that Aspen Mountain has secured a World Cup women’s downhill event in December – the first since 1988 – should also facilitate interest and growth. “We overcame a lot of obstacles this year,” Hanle said. “Everything seems to be falling into place.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is

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