State skier visits are up 11% |

State skier visits are up 11%

Colorado’s ski industry is on a record pace for skier and rider visits this season despite a limited appeal to out-of-state customers.

The Aspen Skiing Co.’s four ski areas and others around the state are having trouble attracting visitors from outside Colorado, according to industry officials.

Colorado Ski Country USA, a state trade association, announced Tuesday that customer visits are up 11 percent statewide from last winter through February.

Probably more important, business is 2 percent ahead of the five-year average and tied with the pace set in the record season of 1997-98.

“All-in-all, after the last two years it’s an excellent rebound,” said David Perry, president and CEO of Colorado Ski Country.

The state’s ski areas were 29 percent ahead of last season’s pace at the end of December. Poor snow conditions ruined the first couple of months last season.

Statistics weren’t released Tuesday for individual resorts and won’t be until late May. Aspen Skiing Co. officials said their overall skier and rider visits are also up about 11 percent – thanks mostly to locals.

“Local passholders are skiing a ton,” said Skico Chief Operating Officer John Norton.

The company isn’t doing as well when it comes to attracting out-of-state visitors, according to spokeswoman Rose Abello.

“January was a tough month,” she said. “We’re probably up a little over last year [in attracting out-of-towners]. It’s not a dramatic change one way or another.”

Norton said the worsening national economy has made for tough times for the entire travel and leisure industry. “The malaise is not just in the ski industry,” he said.

Colorado Ski Country reported that Front Range destination resorts were up 12 percent over last season through February. That category includes Arapahoe Basin, Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Keystone and Winter Park.

Destination resorts were up 11 percent for the same period. Those include the Skico’s four ski areas, Crested Butte, Steamboat, Telluride, Monarch, Powderhorn, Purgatory and Sunlight.

The Front Range resorts of Berthoud, Eldora, Loveland and Ski Copper were up 1 percent.

“These numbers indicate that business is very strong at Front Range destinations,” said Perry. “Although numbers at the destination resorts are up year-to-date, looking at the five-year average, drawing out-of-state skiers to Colorado resorts midwinter continues to be our biggest challenge.”

Perry said he doesn’t have the statistics yet to determine if the increase at Front Range destination resorts in Summit and Eagle counties is due to Denver-area customers.

Ski area operators are hoping for a strong close to the season.

“March is traditionally our busiest month where we see our heaviest snowfalls,” Perry said. “Overall, resorts are reporting solid reservations for the remainder of the season and a late Easter allows for an extended season.”

Bookings in Aspen and Snowmass aren’t quite so rosy. Advance reservations for this week produced an occupancy of 78 percent compared to 92 percent last season, according to the latest report by the Aspen Chamber Resort Association. Reservations for the last two weeks of the month were about the same as last season.

In Snowmass Village, reservations for this week were about the same as last year and the prior three-year average. Reservations were significantly stronger for the week starting March 17 compared to historical levels.

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