Snowmass Ski Area hit hard last winter |

Snowmass Ski Area hit hard last winter

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Recently released numbers from Colorado’s ski areas make it possible to see who had the “least worst” ski season last winter.

Few, if any, ski operators were betting on a strong season in the wake of last September, but seven of the 25 ski areas in the state actually did better last winter than the year before.

None of the four Aspen/Snowmass ski areas were part of the lucky seven.

In fact, Snowmass had its worst year since the 1990-91 season, and the winter marked the fourth down season in a row compared to 1998-99 for all four Aspen/Snowmass areas.

Snowmass’ skier visits dropped 8.61 percent, down 63,736 to a season-end tally of 676,505. That’s well off the 1997-98 high of 884,066 and just above the 1990-91 count of 645,374.

Statewide, resorts recorded 11,128,131 visits, off 538,541 from the prior year.

Nationally, skier visits were 54.2 million, off 5.5 percent from last year’s record of 57.3 million, but still marking the third-best year ever for the U.S. ski industry.

“The fact that underlying demand remained as strong as it did bodes well for the future health of the industry,” states the Kottke National End of Season Survey, which is prepared each year by the National Ski Areas Association.

And that’s especially true given the laundry list of reasons why the season could have been much worse.

“Nationally, the events of Sept. 11, in combination with the ensuing travel safety and hassle concerns, the war in Afghanistan, a deepened national recession, the anthrax scare, unrest in the Middle East, etc. put a notable dent in travel activity nationally … ” the Kottke report states.

But some ski areas in Colorado went ahead and had a strong season anyway, including Telluride, which was up 6,864 skier visits to 341,370, a 2.05 percent gain.

The Powderhorn ski area near Grand Junction saw the biggest percentage increase over the year before while Breckenridge had the biggest actual skier visit increase.

Powderhorn was up 9.04 percent in the 2001-02 ski season over the prior season, with visits going up 6,338 to 76,456.

Breckenridge jumped 45,735 to 1,468,518, a 3.21 percent increase.

Copper Mountain also had a positive season, moving up 1.31 percent and 13,025 skier visits to reach 1,005,913.

Breck and Copper, along with Vail, Steamboat and Keystone, now make up the state’s million-plus skier-visit club.

Steamboat was down slightly last winter at .23 percent to 1,001,003, Vail was off 6.68 percent to 1,536,024, and Keystone was down 13.09 percent to 1,069,111.

Keystone, which shed more skier visits last season than all of Aspen Highlands counted, dropped 160,989 to 1,069,111 compared to the prior year.

Each of the state’s big five ski areas now dwarf the Skico’s three “town mountains.” For instance, Vail Mountain alone did five times as many visits last season as Aspen Highlands, which may be just fine with the average Highlands skier.

Aspen Highlands did 136,136 visits last winter, down 3.2 percent. Buttermilk did 145,683, down 2.11 percent, and Aspen Mountain saw 310,381 skier visits, a 2.8 percent decrease over the 2000-01 ski season, notwithstanding the welcoming of snowboards.

Overall, the Skico did 1,268,705 skier visits, which puts the four-mountain company behind the individual totals of both Vail and Breckenridge.

A few of Colorado’s ski areas last season got hammered.

Durango was down 22 percent and 71,000 visits to 250,500, and the main culprit there was probably lack of snow.

A-Basin shared the Snake River Valley blues last season with Keystone, as both ski areas didn’t pray hard enough for snow. A-Basin was down 88,728 visits to 151,678 and posted a 36.9 percent decrease over the prior season, the worst in the state. That is, except for Berthoud, which lost 100 percent because they didn’t open.

Breckenridge wasn’t awash in snow last year, but it had enough to make a difference.

“We had a tough year until late December, just like everybody else,” said Roger McCarthy, Breckenridge’s chief operating officer. “But once we got there, it snowed kind of at the right times.”

McCarthy said Breckenridge’s success last winter was also from good air fares to Denver, Vail Resorts’ kids-fly-free program and a drop in some hotel rates due to shorter booking times. And it probably didn’t hurt that thousands of Buddy Pass holders defected from Keystone looking for better snow.

[Brent Gardner-Smith’s e-mail address is]

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