Colorado ski industry focused on recovery, not dwelling on lost season
The Colorado ski industry hoped to be reveling today over another successful ski season. Instead, some resorts are working hard to salvage summer operations and all are striving to convince consumers to plan trips and purchase passes for next season.
Colorado Ski Country USA, a trade association for many of the state’s ski areas, holds its annual business conference during the first week of June. A highlight of the gathering is releasing the percentage increase or decrease over the prior season’s performance.
This year’s conference was canceled due to the coronavirus threat, and no business metrics have been released yet for last season.
Colorado Ski Country President and CEO Melanie Mills said in a statement that the focus of its member resorts is on summer and next ski season.
“Colorado’s ski industry and the ski industry in general is about the most optimistic, forward-looking industry there is,” Mills said. “We’re a ‘glass half full’ bunch.”
The member resorts with summer operations are working with local public health authorities to prepare for the summer. They are also looking at policies and practices to protect employees and guests next winter in “our new socially-distanced reality,” the statement said.
“We’re learning a lot as we go, just as all reopening businesses are right now,” Mills said. “Summer operations will give ski areas an opportunity to learn and improve as we head into winter.”
In a normal year, Aspen Skiing Co. follows the state association’s lead and announces its performance in skier visits, on a percentage basis. The company is still crunching the numbers, spokesman Jeff Hanle said Thursday.
By any measure, 2019-20 was a brutal season, cut short as the coronavirus threat swept through the state. Gov. Jared Polis ordered ski areas to shut down on March 14.
While the majority of the season was completed, the forced closure came at a particularly busy and lucrative time.
“The economic cost to our business has been massive,” Aspen Skiing Co. President and CEO Mike Kaplan told The Aspen Times on April 1. “March typically accounts for more than one-third of our annual revenue. This year, because of an earlier Easter, the bulk of March business was going to come in the second half of the month, so this is worse than a bad snow year or a typical recession.”
Skico and the Colorado ski industry set a record for skier visits in 2018-19. Skico topped 1.55 million visits at Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass and Buttermilk. That topped the previous high mark, set 21 seasons earlier. Skico officials said they were tracking close to the record numbers until the coronavirus crisis knocked out the season.
Occupancy in Aspen and Snowmass Village fell about 22.5% for the winter, according to data released last month. If Skico’s business took a similar hit, that means 350,000 fewer visits for the season or a total of around 1.2 million.
A skier visit is the purchase of a lift ticket for any part of the day. It factors in season pass use.
Colorado ski resorts totaled about 13.8 million visits in 2018-19, according to Colorado Ski Country.
Nationally, the ski industry logged about 59.34 million skier visits in 2018-19. National figures are usually released this time of year, but the National Ski Areas Association moved back the deadline for submitting statistics because of all the planning occurring with the coronavirus crisis. A figure is expected before the end of June.
Meanwhile, ski resorts are faced with a preseason like they’ve never faced before. Instead of coming up with marketing campaigns designed to tout advantages over the competition, resorts will have to find a way to convince skiers and riders it is safe to return next winter.
“Ski areas have worked to build guest confidence for both summer and future winter operations by creating and sharing operating plans, and communicating clearly to guests what they can expect when they visit,” said Adrienne Saia Isaac, director, marketing and communications for NSAA. “I’ve seen some really solid pre-arrival communication about social distancing and capacity requirements, as well as expectations for behavior for both staff and guests. We’ve also seen ski areas coordinate with local agencies, which is critical for those businesses looking to resume their operations, especially as local ordinances may be stricter than state guidance.
“As for next winter — we’re learning a lot from the ski areas which have reopened for spring skiing. There are talks about how we can scale these procedures for operation at greater capacity,” Saia Isaac added. “Operators are planning for multiple scenarios, gathering best practices and sharing advice on how to tailor these practices to their unique operations.”
Numerous small- and mid-sized resorts applied for Paycheck Protection Program loans to weather the abrupt end of business, according to NSAA.
The ski industry’s two biggest players — Vail Resorts and Alterra Mountain Co. — have used financing, credits and promises of refunds if skiing is canceled next season to build confidence among consumers.
Alterra announced Thursday it was expanding its Adventure Assurance program for its Ikon Pass “to alleviate uncertainty and provide flexibility to 20-21 passholders.”
If buyers cannot use their pass in 2020-21, the purchase price for an unused pass can be deferred to the 2021-22 season. If passes are used but there are COVID-19-related closures at resorts during the 2020-21 season, they will get a credit toward a 2021-22 Ikon Pass.
Full details of the Adventure Assurance are spelled out at http://www.ikonpass.com.
Alterra is a sister company of Aspen Skiing Co. Skico customers who buy a full pass also get an Ikon Base Pass. Buyers of the Ikon Pass can get access to Skico’s four ski areas.
Aspen Skiing Co. is also using credits, financing and the potential for refunds to entice pass buyers for 2020-21.
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State department of transportation crews are well on their way to clearing Highway 82 to Independence Pass, which should open on schedule May 27 at noon.