National skier visits fall slightly
The number of skiers and snowboarders hitting the slopes at U.S. ski areas fell by about 700,000, or 1.3 percent, this season, the National Ski Areas Association trade group announced Thursday.
A preliminary estimate showed there were 56.2 million customers compared with 56.9 million last season, the association said. The 10-year industry average is 57.3 million.
Colorado Ski Country USA, the state trade association, and Aspen Skiing Co. don’t reveal whether their visits were up or down until an annual Ski Country convention in June.
Skico’s skier visits were up between 8 and 9 percent through February.
NSAA President Michael Berry said in an interview with The Aspen Times in March that he wasn’t sure if an increase in business in the Rocky Mountain resorts and other areas of the country would offset losses because of drought in California.
“With the drought and a rough start to the season in the Far West, an abundance of cold and snow in the East and Midwest, and near-perfect conditions in many parts of the Rocky Mountains, it’s hard to imagine a more complicated weather pattern over the course of one season,” Berry said in a statement released Thursday.
Rocky Mountain resorts posted a 6.4 percent increase in business, the association reported. Resorts in the Southeast, Midwest and Northeast also reported increased business. However, resorts in the Pacific Northwest and Pacific Southwest saw their visits plunge nearly 28 percent — the second-lowest level in 36 years, according to the association.
“It’s important to note that if the West Coast had experienced an average amount of skier visits, nationally the ski industry would have been close to another record season,” the association said in its statement.
The U.S. ski industry logged a record number of skier and snowboarder visits with 60.5 million in 2010-11. It had one of its worst seasons with 51 million visits in 2011-12.
The National Ski Areas Association said it will release final skier and snowboarder visit data in its annual Kottke End of Season Survey during the summer.
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There is a lot of pent up energy among hikers and bikers to get into the high country, but snow fields, avalanche debris and high stream crossings are presenting challenges later than usual. Forest rangers with the Aspen-Sopris District provide trail condition reports that are updated each week so hikers and backpackers aren’t caught unaware.