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March key to skier numbers

Skiers wait Monday to board the gondola at Aspen Mountain. Since last Thursday, the four local mountains are reporting between 19 and 27 inches of new snow. (Mark Fox/The Aspen Times)
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Record snowfall in parts of Colorado has put the state’s ski industry on pace for a record season.

Locally, there will be no record, but a solid campaign is already guaranteed.

“The next few weeks will be the difference between a good year and a great year,” said Aspen Skiing Co. Chief Operating Officer Mike Kaplan.

Skier and snowboarder visits were about 6 percent above last season’s level through February at the Skico’s four ski areas, according to company spokesman Jeff Hanle.

“We’re very happy with the way things are going,” he said.

All four ski areas are showing increases over last season at this point. Aspen Highlands has logged the most growth, Hanle said. Like Kaplan, Hanle placed an asterisk beside the solid numbers.

“We’re not going to have a record year,” he said. “The last month is really going to tell the story.”

That raises a potential problem. Last March closed with a monster week when spring break and Easter overlapped. The Skico recorded bigger-than-usual numbers March 20-27, Kaplan said.

“We anticipate being down that week [this year],” he said.

But the Skico hopes to offset that loss by posting gains the other weeks of the month and posting a better April than last year. Aspen Mountain and Snowmass stay open through April 16. Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk stay open through April 2.

If the Skico maintains its gain in visits, it will be the fourth consecutive season with an increase. Last year the company boosted business 3.3 percent to 1,367,210 visits. The banner season was 1997-98, when Skico logged 1,559,386 visits.

Visits are a measure of purchased and complimentary lift tickets and season pass use for any portion of a day.

Kaplan said the Skico’s success this season is the result of more than good snow. International business is up, the company made progress with Front Range customers, and the Skico marketing department has teamed with Aspen’s lodging industry to promote the ski areas aggressively during slow times, he said.

Colorado ski industry officials said the recent snowstorms that belted the state could help establish a record for visits. Through February, state skier and snowboarder visits were 8.35 million, compared with 7.92 million at the same point last season, according to figures released by Colorado Ski Country USA, a state trade association. That’s a 5.4 percent increase.

This season’s visits are also 11.5 percent above the five-year average, according to Colorado Ski Country.

The 23 resorts in the trade association “are now one step closer to achieving their goal of hosting more than 12 million skiers and snowboarders this season, which would make the 2005-06 winter season the state’s best season ever,” the organization said in a news release.

Front Range destination resorts, such as Vail and Breckenridge, have logged the biggest increase so far this season. Denver-area skiers and riders have flocked to Summit County and Eagle County resorts because of copious snow. That category of resorts is up 8.4 percent from last season.

Destination resorts ” such as Aspen/Snowmass, Crested Butte and Telluride ” are flat, with growth of only 0.09 percent as a whole. The Skico’s performance was well above its category as a whole.

Gems and Front Range resorts, places like Eldora near Boulder and Sunlight Mountain Resort outside Glenwood Springs, are up 4.75 percent.

Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com


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