Skier visits up just 1 percent | AspenTimes.com
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Skier visits up just 1 percent

Steve Benson

This past season’s skier-visit numbers in Aspen didn’t change much from 2002-03, creeping slightly above the 1.3 million mark to post a 1 percent gain, the Aspen Skiing Co. announced Thursday. As slight as the gain was, it was the second consecutive year of growth – the first back-to-back increase since 1996-98 – attributing to a 4 percent cumulative gain since the abysmal 2001-02 season.Colorado Ski Country USA (CSCUSA), which held its annual meeting and forum at the St. Regis Hotel in Aspen this week, released their statewide figures Thursday.Colorado drew more than 11.2 million skiers and riders in 2003-04, a decrease of 3.39 percent. Destination resorts, however, attracted 3.5 million visitors, a gain of 1.74 percent. The Front Range resorts, particularly the smaller areas, suffered. Aspen was on pace to post considerably higher seasonal figures until March, when a record heat wave caused pass-holder use to dwindle, according to Aspen Skico senior vice president, David Perry. “The locals stopped skiing,” he explained. At true destination resorts like Aspen, Telluride and Steamboat, business was up 3 percent – slightly above average in comparison to destination resorts in other parts of the country.International visits to Aspen rose a staggering 29 percent, Perry added. Once again, Aspen Highlands had a successful year. In the 2002-03 season, Highlands experienced its best numbers in seven years, with 157,317 visits. It did even better this season, drawing 160,836 skiers and riders. “We’re seeing a distinct preference for the uncrowded/backcountry experience Highlands epitomizes,” Perry said. “It also reflects the second year of the bowl being fully opened – and both years it has opened on opening day.” Resorts classified by the CSCUSA as Front Range ski destinations, including Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Copper Mountain, and Winter Park, were down 4.26 percent. Resorts identified by the CSCUSA as Front Range gems, which includes Arapahoe Basin, Eldora, Loveland, Monarch, Powderhorn, Ski Cooper, SolVista and Sunlight, were down a staggering 12.48 percent. While most of the Western Slope was blessed with a bounty of early-season snow, Front Range resorts generally missed out on the storms, and never really caught up. As a result, the March meltdown hit A-basin and Loveland Pass particularly hard. Those mountains rely heavily on day skiers from the Denver area. While Aspen’s local pass-holders generally stopped skiing during March, vacationers who had reservations in advance did not cancel their trips. As for next season, Perry is optimistic that numbers will continue to grow.”I think we’re on the right trend, we have forward momentum,” Perry said. “We’re recognized more than ever for Winter X Games, and we have the World Cup coming back – that helps a little.” Perry added that the Skico’s marketing program, which will continue to be fueled by “The Power of Four” campaign, is “solid.” A weakened U.S. dollar, he added, will also help to continue to attract the growing pool of International visitors. Last season, Colorado visitors from Australia and New Zealand were up 41 percent from 2002-03, with Germany increasing by 38 percent. Steve Benson’s e-mail address is sbenson@aspentimes.com


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