Resorts hope snow falls on the Broncos
October 8, 2006
DENVER – With “Monday Night Football” bringing its cameras to Denver on Monday for a Broncos game, Colorado ski resorts are praying for a little snow – nothing big, just enough to remind a national audience that the ski season is just around the corner.
“You can’t buy exposure like that,” said John Sellers, director of communications for Loveland Ski Area. “It gets everyone thinking about the ski season.”
Colorado resorts are eagerly watching the weather and their reservation lines as the season approaches. Loveland and Arapahoe Basin are making artificial snow around the clock, racing to be the first to open. Silverton Mountain says it’s in the race, too.
Last year, Loveland was the first to open, on Oct. 14, and has opened as early as Oct. 3.
Silverton has no snow machines but already has recorded 36 inches of natural snow from a late September storm.
With a base high in the mountains at 10,400 feet “it doesn’t take a whole lot for us to get open,” said Silverton co-founder Aaron Brill. “We just need a little more precipitation. There’s a chance (we’ll be first). We just have to keep our fingers crossed.”
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Colorado ski resorts reported a record 12.53 million skier visits last season, easily making it the nation’s top destination for skiers and snowboarders. No. 2 California gets nearly 8 million, followed by Vermont and Utah.
Ski officials in Colorado are optimistic about another banner year.
“The Farmer’s Almanac is calling for a good season,” Sellers said. “I don’t subscribe, though, because it gets my hopes up. I like to think the early snow is a good sign.”
Klaus Wolter of the University of Colorado’s climate center cautioned against reading too much into early snowfall.
“There’s no correlation with September snow and later on,” said Wolter, who will soon deliver his annual state of the snow season address. “It has no bearing on the season. It’s not going to last.”
Last season will be difficult to top for Colorado resorts, which recorded nearly 500,000 more skier visits than the previous record set in 1997-98. Timely storms helped, said Molly Cuffe, communications director for Colorado Ski Country USA, an industry trade group. She said snow fell early, around the holidays and late into the spring.
“It kept people’s interest all the way through,” Cuffe said.
Ski magazine published a reader poll in October that put six Colorado ski areas in the nation’s top 10, with Vail at No. 1. Snowmass was at No. 3 and Aspen Mountain at No. 7 (Aspen Highlands ranked No. 11).
With leaves changing color and temperatures falling, ski officials say they are seeing more ski racks on cars, skis and boards getting tuneups and people trying to get in shape.
Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association, said he would like to see a good chunk of the resorts open by at least Thanksgiving. (Both Aspen and Snowmass have scheduled a Thanksgiving Day opening.)
“It’s one of those dates that’s become important to the industry,” Berry said. “Thirty years ago, it was a hit-or-miss proposition. But with snowmaking, people want to get going and want to ski over Thanksgiving. For skiers, skiing supplants Thanksgiving football.”
The first two months of the season may not produce the best snow, but they do quench the appetite for skiers who’ve been counting down the days until the lifts open again.
“Skiers are walking around right now with their eyes looking at the sky all day long,” Berry said. “They want to get out. The first day is always much more populated than the last.”
Cuffe said the lure of the Rockies is strong internationally, too, with resorts reporting brisk sales of international vacation packages.
Australians are among the Colorado resorts’ biggest customers, and that comes as no shock to Andrew Ramsey, CEO of the Australian Ski Areas Association. Ramsey said some Australian mountains had the worst skiing conditions since 1973 this past season, so skiers are eager to hit the slopes – anywhere.
“Australians are passionate skiers,” Ramsey said in a phone interview from Melbourne. “It doesn’t surprise me that a lot are heading to North America.”