Aspen Snowmass skier visits down 7% while Colorado Ski Country members are off 2%

A snowboarder slashes the snow April 14 on Snowmass during the swimsuit ski down on closing weekend. Despite a slow start, skier visits were down only 7 percent for the season at Aspen Snowmass.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

Aspen Skiing Co. managed to salvage the season after a poor start and ended up down only 7 percent in skier visits compared with the prior winter, the company announced Thursday.

Skico was down almost 20 percent at the end of December, so company officials were relieved and pleased with the outcome, according to Jeff Hanle, Skico vice president of communications.

“That’s a strong number. We were happy to have clawed our way back into it,” Hanle said. “I think it surprised us.”

Meanwhile, the 24 member resorts of Colorado Ski Country USA finished the season 2 percent down compared with the prior season, the trade association announced at its annual meeting in Denver on Thursday.

“We were happy to have clawed our way back into it.” — Jeff Hanle, Aspen Skiing Co.

The resorts combined for 7.1 million skier visits.

A skier visit is the purchase of a lift ticket for any part of the day. It includes pass use. It’s a standard measure of business in the ski industry.

“These end-of-season numbers are impressive when looking back over the entire season,” Colorado Ski Country USA president and CEO Melanie Mills said in a prepared statement. “We faced historically low snowfall in the early part of the season and resort operations crews deserve credit for their tireless work to get slopes open and operating during an extended period of early-season conditions.”

March was a strong season for Skico and for Colorado overall.

“There was exuberant pent up demand and skiers and snowboarders flocked to the slopes in the latter half of the season, allowing resorts to finish on a strong note,” Mills said.

The 7.1 million visits doesn’t include numbers at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone. The ski areas operated by Vail Resorts aren’t members of the state trade association.

Colorado Ski Country’s member results were slightly ahead of the five-year average for skier visits.

On the national level, skier visits were down an estimated 1.5 million, or nearly 3 percent, in 2017-18 from the prior season, according to National Ski Areas Association. A preliminary study released in May estimated ski areas tallied 53.3 million visits this winter compared with 54.8 million the winter before.

The 53.3 million visits were the lowest in several seasons.

The Rocky Mountain Region, which includes Colorado, was down 5 percent.

For Aspen Skiing Co., the season turned around because of February powder and a loyal base among destination skiers — those who come for overnight stays.

The powder helped get locals out on the hill, although overall pass use dropped compared with the prior season, according to Hanle. Conditions weren’t up to snuff for many locals outside of a three-week window in February.

However, the snow reinforced plans for tourists to come to the area.

“People planned their vacations and they still came,” Hanle said.

Even if they weren’t hitting the slopes as often, they were sleeping in lodges, eating at restaurants and shopping.

Aspen’s retail sales tax revenue climbed 4 percent during January through April, according to the city of Aspen.

In the lodging industry, paid occupancy was slightly higher in 2017-18 than the prior season. However, the Sky Hotel is being replaced, so its rooms weren’t available this winter. That reduced Aspen’s overall availability of rooms.

Aspen Mountain managed to post an increase in skier visits for the season. Aspen Mountain had the most snowmaking coverage, so it was able to open more terrain earlier than the other local ski areas.

Snowmass, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk were all down in skier visits compared with 2016-17, Hanle said.

He was unable to provide immediate information on Skico’s overall international business. Business from Latin American countries was strong, he said.