Aspen Skiing Co., Colorado resorts post record skier visits

Crowds gather at the bottom of Ajax Express as the day warms up and snow softens during the extended season on Memorial Day Weekend.
Aspen Times file photo

Old Man Winter did his part this year and skiers in Aspen and elsewhere in Colorado responded in record numbers.

Aspen Skiing Co. topped a 21-year-old record for skier and snowboarder visits, according to Jeff Hanle, vice president of communications. Skico topped 1.55 million visits at Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass and Buttermilk.

“It couldn’t have been a better year,” Hanle said.

Colorado ski resorts cumulatively reached a projected 13.8 million visits, breaking the record set in 2015-16, according to Colorado Ski Country USA.

“The 2018-19 season was one for the history books,” Colorado Ski Country USA President and CEO Melanie Mills said in a statement.

Nationally, the ski industry logged its fourth best season. The Denver-based National Ski Areas Association reported April 30 that total skier visits topped an estimated 59 million for 2018-19 — up nearly 11% from the prior season.

Its preliminary numbers showed that skier and snowboarder visits were up 15.6% in the Rocky Mountain region, which includes Colorado. Rocky Mountain resorts logged more than 24 million visits to set a record, according to NSAA’s preliminary data.

A skier visit is the purchase of a ticket for any part of one day. It factors in season pass use.

Hanle said Skico experienced a “slow start” that was likely due to a “snow hangover” from the prior season. Destination visitors were wary to book vacations until they got a clearer picture of snow conditions, he said.

The season started with a bang. Aspen Mountain opened early because of stellar conditions. A strong season turned into an epic season with 7 feet of snowfall in late February and early March. The steady powder throughout the winter brought out the skiers and snowboarders.

“Local pass use was through the roof — probably the best we’ve ever seen it,” Hanle said.

In early March, Skico senior vice president of mountain operations Katie Ertl told an audience that use of season passes was up 40% compared with the prior season. Hanle said it didn’t finish that high, but still at an impressive increase.

Destination visits — tourists who come to Aspen-Snowmass for an overnight stay — were up, but not as high as pass use.

Numbers at Aspen-Snowmass also were buoyed this year by use of the Ikon Pass offered by Alterra Mountain Co., an affiliate of Skico. The full Ikon Pass included as many as seven days collectively at Skico’s four resorts.

Ikon passes accounted for about 9% of Skico’s total skier days, Hanle said. Use was heaviest on weekends.

Skico’s visits were up 19.3% over 2017-18. A hefty increase was anticipated because that season was so “dismal,” Hanle said.

Final numbers aren’t in yet for Skico yet and skier visits are still being racked up. Aspen Mountain is open for its third bonus weekend of the season Saturday and Sunday. The scheduled season ended April 21, but Skico reopened for Memorial Day Weekend and the first couple weekends in June because the snow base was still so impressive. Company officials will evaluate next week if they can open next weekend, during the Food & Wine Classic.

This season was just the fourth campaign where the four resorts of Aspen-Snowmass topped 1.5 million skier visits. Along with the previous record in 1997-98, the 1.5 million barrier was surpassed in 2015-16 and 2016-17, according to Skico data.

Skico officials were initially cautious about declaring a record season because this season’s tally was so close to 1997-98. Their confidence grew, Hanle said, because tracking skier visits is so much more accurate now than it was two decades ago.

The mood at Colorado Ski Country USA’s annual spring meeting in Denver on Thursday was upbeat with news of the record showing, according to an attendee.

Colorado Ski Country is a state trade group with 23 members. Vail Resorts doesn’t belong to the group because of a dispute over marketing strategy. However, CSCUSA projected the state’s resorts as a whole reached 13.8 million visits using numbers supplied by its members and information that was publicly available about Vail Resort’s ski areas.

Vail Resorts operates Vail Mountain, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Crested Butte ski areas.

For CSCUSA members alone, skier visits were up 13% over the 2018-19 season and up nearly 12% above the five-year average, the organization announced.