Aspen Skiing Co.’s skier visits fell 20% while U.S. skier visits fell 14% in 2019-20 winter
National trade association says skier visits fell 14% last season compared to 2018-19
Aspen Skiing Co.’s skier visits plummeted by 20 percent during a 2019-20 season shortened by the coronavirus crisis, the company announced Wednesday.
Skico’s skier visits fell to about 1,156,000 from 1,447,000 the season before, according to Jeff Hanle, Skico vice president of communications. Colorado Gov. Jared Paris ordered the closure of ski areas starting March 15, when resort towns were packed with spring break vacationers.
“Through that date of the shutdown, we were on par with the record number” of the 2018-19 season, Hanle said Wednesday.
Also on Wednesday, a national trade association for ski areas announced that total skier visits in the U.S. fell by 14 percent in 2019-20. The U.S. ski industry lost at least $2 billion last winter because of the economic collapse tied to the COVID-19 crisis, according to National Ski Areas Association.
National skier visits totaled about 51.1 million during the shortened season, NSAA said in a news release.
“Had the season continued along its track prior to the pandemic, the 2019-20 season would have been the fourth best season on record since NSAA began surveying visitation in the 1978-79 season,” NSAA said.
Skier visits are a standard business metric for the ski industry. It accounts for use of a lift ticket for any part of the day and factors in ski pass use.
Colorado Ski Country USA, a trade association for most ski areas in Colorado, isn’t releasing skier visit data for the 2019-20 season.
Aspen Skiing Co. hasn’t publicly discussed its financial loss from the early, forced closure. However, President and CEO Mike Kaplan said on April 1, “March typically accounts for more than one-third of our annual revenue. This year, because of an earlier Easter, the bulk of March business was going to come in the second half of the month, so this is worse than a bad snow year or a typical recession.”
Hanle said Skico lost revenues from ski school lessons, ski rentals, and food and beverage sales in addition to lift tickets. In addition, the company paid all its employees who were scheduled to work for the two weeks after the shutdown.
“It was really a busy time,” Hanle said. “The financial impact is greater than the skier visits.”
National Ski Areas Association said most of the 470 ski area in the country closed early because of the coronavirus threat. The average ski area was open only 99 days last season, down from 121 days in the 2018-19 season, the association reported.
Skier visits were down across all six geographic regions of the country, including the Rocky Mountains.
If the season had unfolded as planned, 2019-20 was on pace to hit 59.7 million skier visits — slightly higher than the prior season’s 59.3 million, according to NSAA. That would have made last season the fourth best on record in terms of skier visits.
The decrease in skier visits had a ripple effect on ski areas.
“A 14 percent decline in skier visits may not seem significant in itself, but the economic and personal impacts spread beyond just the ski area,” said Adrienne Saia Isaac, NSAA’s director of marketing and communications. “The impact of the pandemic on the ski industry affects the rest of our mountain communities, from lodging to restaurants and other small businesses.
“Additionally, many ski area and ski community employees were furloughed or laid off — our colleagues, neighbors and friends,” Saia Isaac said in an email.
NSAA and partners lobbied to make the federal government’s Payroll Protection Program more favorable to ski areas this spring. The association said many small and medium sized resorts relied on the program to get through a tough time.
NSAA has estimated that the losses at ski areas from COVID-19 could reach $5 billion if it affects operations in the 2020-21 season.
It’s unknown how the pandemic will affect next season. Some ski areas, Aspen Mountain among them, have started summer operations. Skico is spacing riders on the Silver Queen Gondola and limiting gatherings on the mountain. Snowmass will open for summer operations on Sunday.
Social distancing could affect capacity during the winter as well.
Hanle said Skico officials are just starting their budgeting process for the 2020-21 winter.
“I think at this point we have reduced expectations but we don’t know how that’s going to play out,” he said.
He noted that the first week of summer operations at Aspen Mountain was “better than expected.”
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