Going downhill isn’t bad for ski resorts anymore
Less than a decade ago, the U.S. ski industry was reeling from downhill business. Resorts were collectively wringing their hands over a future that looked bleak.But a call to action rejuvenated the industry, something confirmed by the latest statistics released by a national trade association. U.S. ski resorts posted their fourth best season on record during the 2004-05 winter despite a drought that turned the season into a dud for resorts in the Northwest, according to the National Ski Areas Association.NSAA reported during its annual convention last weekend that preliminary data shows resorts posted 56.4 million visits from skiers and snowboarders. NSAA officials were en route back to their Lakewood, Colo.-headquarters yesterday and couldn’t be reached for comment.Four out of the last five seasons have been among the ski industry’s best-ever, the organization’s announcement said. NSAA said its preliminary data showed customer visits were up 2.4 percent in the Rocky Mountain region.Aspen Skiing Co. Senior Vice President of Marketing and Sales David Perry said the report makes him particularly pleased with the Skico’s performance during 2004-05. The company posted a 4 percent gain in visits at its four mountains. “For a pure, long-haul destination resort that’s good,” said Perry. Aspen doesn’t have a large urban market nearby to draw from. It relies primarily on people who stay at least one night.Perry said Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk logged “strong” gains. Highlands draws attention for its expansion of double-black diamond terrain; Buttermilk has enjoyed the limelight as home of the X Games.Snowmass posted a “decent” gain after five or so years of flat or reduced business. Aspen Mountain’s numbers were down slightly but not by a significant amount, according to Perry.He credited the Skico’s overall 4 percent gain to three factors: international business buoyed by a weak dollar; strong appeal of the seven-day Classic Pass; and a surge in group business.Perry said residents of the Front Range as well as the Roaring Fork Valley “gobbled up” the Classic Pass this winter. The increase in group business was due to coordinated sales and marketing efforts throughout the business community.NSAA reported that the Rocky Mountain region had about 19.33 million skier and rider visits, which is a new record for the region.The Northeast was up 6.3 percent from last season. The Southeast was down 0.7 percent; the Midwest was down 3.3 percent; and the Pacific West plummeted 13.9 percent.But as the Rockies go, the industry goes because there are so many resorts in Colorado and Utah.Perry, who used to head Colorado Ski Country USA, a statewide trade association, said resorts concentrated on two main points to reverse its sagging fortunes in the late 1990s. The industry realized it needed to do a better job of retaining customers and getting “echo boomers,” the kids of baby boomers, to try the sport.Urban resorts – or ski areas close to big cities – have also successfully recruited new people to skiing and riding, according to Perry. Aspen’s four mountains eventually capitalize on that because many skiers and riders wants to come on an extended trip to somewhere famous.”Aspen was always that dream destination,” said Perry.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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