Skico numbers up, but March looms |

Skico numbers up, but March looms

Scott Condon
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen Skiing Co. officials don’t want to jinx their luck but they believe they are on track for another strong season.

Skier and rider visits are up 5 percent through February at the Skico’s four mountains, according to Senior Vice President David Perry. Last season the Skico logged a modest 3.5 percent gain.

But Perry said he’s telling Aspen’s business community that it cannot “coast” through the last 41 days of ski season. Business owners still need to try to fill the beds, restaurants, shops and slopes.

“March is the biggest month of the year. It can make or break the season,” he said.

Increased ski pass use doesn’t account for the entire gain so far this season, although many locals acknowledge they are hitting the slopes more often because of the good snow. Perry said pass use accounts for one-third of the increase this season. About two-thirds of the increase comes from destination visitors, he said.

Perry said the word in the industry is that destination resorts in general are bouncing back from a couple of lean years. The number of tourists that came to resorts and stayed overnight had dropped as travel and economic woes struck after Sept. 11, 2001.

The U.S. ski industry as a whole is experiencing one of its strongest seasons ever, though some regions are suffering, according to Michael Berry, president of the Lakewood, Colo.-based National Ski Areas Association.

“I don’t think we’re going to see a record year like last year,” said Berry. “It could be a top-two, top-three year.”

Last season there were a record 57.6 million skier and rider visits. A visit is the purchase of a full- or half-day lift ticket. Berry expects the number of visits to top 56 million this season, depending on a strong March.

Ski resorts in the eastern U.S. struggled due to bitter cold temperatures and generally fierce weather. “Too much winter in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine,” Berry said.

California resorts are coming on strong, and “the Northwest is in the game this year. Last year they weren’t in the game,” said Berry.

Colorado is “doing fine,” he said. Colorado Ski Country USA, a trade association for the state’s ski areas, is releasing a report about performance during the middle third of the season in a couple of weeks. During the first third of the season, through December, Colorado’s skier visits tumbled by 271,023, or 9.2 percent. Destination resorts such as Aspen were off only 2.2 percent at that time.

Early and ample snow ” and the marketing to trumpet the conditions ” have paid dividends for resorts in Utah, according to Kip Pitou, president of Ski Utah, that state’s ski area association. If March is as strong as usual, the state will log a record number of visits, he said. “There’s no question about it.”

The state had 3.35 million visits last season. They are tracking about 8 percent higher this season. If that holds, Utah will end up with about 3.5 million visits, Pitou said.

The strong season is fueling a feeling that the industry remains on a roll, even if there are regional glitches. Berry said he is witnessing the most optimism ever during his 10 years as head of the National Ski Areas Association.

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