Aspen skier visits down slightly for 2016-17 season after slow start

Ski Country visits down 2.5 percent from record 2015-16 season

Closing day at Aspen Mountain this season went into Memorial Day weekend.
Austin Colbert / The Aspen Times

Colorado’s ski industry — including Aspen Skiing Co. — saw its business sag slightly for the 2016-17 winter season after a slow start.

Aspen Skiing Co.’s skier and snowboarder visits were down “less than 1 percent” this past season compared with 2015-16, spokesman Jeff Hanle said Thursday.

Warm and dry conditions delayed the opening of Aspen Mountain and limited the terrain that opened at Snowmass at Thanksgiving. Sixty-five degree temperatures in March enticed some would-be skiers to grab their mountain bikes and golf clubs.

“All things considered, this came out to be a very strong year for us,” Hanle said.

Colorado Ski Country USA, a trade association for 22 ski resorts in the state, reported its preliminary numbers showed skier visits were down 2.5 percent for the season. Nevertheless, its members tallied 7.3 million skier and snowboarder visits. The 2015-16 season saw a record 7.4 million visits.

Skier visits are a basic metric used by the ski industry. It represents the purchase of a lift ticket for a full or partial day and includes season pass use.

Skico normally does not release its skier visits number, just the percentage change from the prior season. However, Hanle said Thursday the company cracked the 1.5 million visits in 2015-16 among its four resorts.

For Aspen Skiing Co., season ski pass use was down this season but destination business — from travelers coming for overnight trips — was up, Hanle said. International business was strong but “probably not our biggest year,” Hanle said.

The decrease in pass use was directly tied to the slow start to the season, he said. In 2015-16, snow conditions allowed Aspen Mountain to open ahead of schedule.

“We opened early last year,” Hanle said. “That’s all pass use.”

And when conditions weren’t so great early on this season, that meant passholders stayed off the slopes.

The strength of Skico’s season was January and February. Aspen experienced near record snowfall during January. The excellent conditions carried over to February. March was “surprisingly good” considering it warmed up and dried out, Hanle said. The Christmas and New Year’s period was particularly strong and extended, he said.

Buttermilk was down about 2 percent for the season. That wasn’t a surprise, Hanle said, because so many storms brought snow to higher elevations and rain to lower spots. Snowmass and Aspen Highlands posted slight gains in visits.

He said Skico’s skier visits were up 3 percent this season compared with the company’s five-year average.

Colorado Ski Country announced the numbers in Denver at its annual convention.

“It is estimated that after final numbers are all tallied, the 2016-17 season will be the state’s second-best on record,” Colorado Ski Country USA said in a statement. “This year’s season total was up 6 percent over the five-year average, marking the fourth consecutive year that skier visits at CSCUSA resorts have outperformed the five-year average.”

Colorado Ski Country’s numbers do not include Vail Resorts, which does not belong to the trade association. Therefore, the visits racked up by Vail Mountain, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone are not part of the 7.3 million visits. Vail Resorts reported that its North American ski areas’ visits were down 2.8 percent this season, but a figure wasn’t released for the four Colorado resorts.

Statewide, all of Colorado’s ski resorts combined to top 13 million visits for the first time in the 2015-16 season. The resorts fell short of that mark this season, according to Chris Linsmayer, public affairs director for Colorado Ski Country USA.

The U.S. ski industry experienced a strong season because of good snow conditions in much of the country. Total skier visits were estimated at 54.7 million, according to a study by National Ski Areas Association. That was up 3.7 percent from the 2015-16 season.

However, the ski business has been stagnant as a whole over the past decade. The average over the 10 seasons prior to this winter was 56.4 million skier visits or 3 percent more than this latest campaign.