Aspen Skiing Co. reports 7.5% jump in skier visits through February |

Aspen Skiing Co. reports 7.5% jump in skier visits through February

Scott Condon | The Aspen Times
U.S. Ski Team athlete Sam Morse decends Face of Bell on Aspen Mountain in March. The Aspen-Snowmass slopes received snow before spring break to create a strong end to the season.
Aspen Times file photo |

A lack of snow in February didn’t prevent Aspen Skiing Co. from logging a strong performance in the middle of the winter.

Skier visits at Skico’s four ski areas were up 5 percent from Jan. 1 through Feb. 29 compared with last year, Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said. For the season to date, Skico’s visits are up about 7.5 percent, he said.

A skier visit is a paid ticket for any portion of a day. It factors in season pass use.

Colorado Ski Country USA, a state trade association, reported Tuesday that its 21 member resorts saw skier visits climb 3.8 percent in January and February compared with last season. For the season-to-date, Colorado Ski Country reported skier visits are up 6.2 percent compared with last season. Many resorts, including Aspen Mountain, opened early because of ample early snow.

Vail Resorts isn’t a member of Colorado Ski Country, so its figures aren’t included in the assessment of the season. The company, which is publicly traded, recently reported its second quarter skier visits were up 10 percent for resorts in Colorado, Utah, California and elsewhere. No breakdown was available for its Colorado resorts.

Colorado Ski Country President and CEO Melanie Mills said resorts received just enough snow during the heart of winter to maintain “fantastic” early season conditions.

“We’re very pleased with the way the season is shaping up,” Mills said in a statement. “While we would’ve liked to have seen more significant storms come through Colorado in January and February, the weather pattern was not unexpected given that this is an El Nino year. Resorts received enough snow to hold up their fantastic early season conditions and guests have been enjoying the sunny days and mild temperatures just the same.”

Rockslide affected lodging numbers

After a big storm Jan. 30 through Feb. 3, the spigot got turned off in the high country — until Monday night. Snowfall on Skico’s four mountains was 63 to 76 percent of average during February, the company reported.

The slopes of Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands and Snowmass received a much-needed refresher with 10 inches of snow for Tuesday. Buttermilk reported 7 inches. More snow is forecasted this week.

The lack of new snow and a rockslide that hampered travel on Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon hurt the Aspen-Snowmass Village lodging industry, according to Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass. High winds also affected equipment at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport and forced cancellation of several flights mid-February.

“Now that the numbers are in, it’s clear that the prolonged I-70 closure through Glenwood Canyon had a very pronounced impact on business in the Roaring Fork Valley throughout late February,” Tomcich wrote in his monthly occupancy report to the lodging industry.

The overall paid occupancy for Aspen properties was 75.8 percent for February, the report said. That was down 2.7 percent from last year.

The overall paid occupancy in Snowmass Village was 77.7 percent or 6.1 percent behind last year.

Aussie losses offset

The dip in occupancy didn’t translate into a drop in skier visits. Hanle said pass usage was strong during January and February. There were a lot of days with sunny skies, warm temperatures and soft snow.

“It’s surprising how well conditions have held up,” Hanle said.

Business in Aspen’s two biggest international markets, Australia and Brazil, is down this season, Hanle said, and January and February are the two most popular months for visitors from those countries. Detailed information on where Skico’s customers are coming from won’t be available until after the season, but the losses from Australia and Brazil suggest that other international markets and the domestic overnight market is “probably” up, Hanle said.

“Destination visits are holding their own,” he said.

The first couple of weeks in March weren’t as strong as earlier parts of the season, but Skico expects the month to end with a bang, thanks to some shifts in spring break weeks and the fact that Easter falls in March rather than April this season.

In the bigger picture, the national ski industry was expecting a strong six weeks through March and into April, said National Ski Areas Association President Michael Berry.

Resorts in California and throughout the Pacific West are faring much better this season after suffering through two seasons from a drought, he said. However, gains made in the Pacific West will be offset by losses in the Northeast, which has experienced a warm and dry winter, according to Berry.

The U.S. ski industry logged 53.58 million skier visits last season. That was down 2.9 million or about 5 percent from the prior season.

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