This ski season ranks among the worst ever |

This ski season ranks among the worst ever

The end of ski season Sunday will mark one of the three or four poorest performances in almost 40 years for the four local ski areas.

An Aspen Times analysis of 36 seasons of skier visits shows the local ski areas have suffered a double-digit drop only three times – during the severe drought of 1976-77, the drought of 1980-81 and again during the national recession of 1989-90.

Since the 1962-63 season, skier visits have been recorded by Colorado Ski Country USA, a state trade association.

Skico officials expect another double-digit drop this season. Overall trips to the slopes by skiers and snowboarders were down about 12 percent going into March, Skico Chief Operating Officer John Norton reported at the time. That figure includes locals’ ski-pass use.

Lift-ticket sales to tourists were down 14.5 percent.

Norton said the decline could be slightly lower by season’s end.

Assuming a 12 percent drop in business, the Skico will record about 187,126 fewer skier and rider visits than last season. Overall skier and rider visits would be about 1,370,000 – the lowest total in eight seasons.

Skico managing partner Jim Crown told The Aspen Times last month that his family, majority owners of the company, is concerned about the drastic decline this season, but they aren’t panicking. Crown said he is confident the management team can turn the numbers around.

The trend for the 1990s appears more troublesome than one season’s performance. The Skico’s business has dropped in four of the last six seasons.

On the other hand, skier and rider visits were up in both 1996-97 and 1997-98. Skico President and CEO Pat O’Donnell said before this season he expected a “modest gain” of 2 percent or so.

Despite the poor performance, this season doesn’t come close to matching the misery of 1976-77. The Aspen Times ran a picture of then-Skico president DRC Brown on a bare, brown Little Nell slope at Christmastime.

Aspen Mountain finally opened at mid-January, but the damage was done. Ajax, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass combined for only 566,124 skier visits that season. That was down 847,722 or 60 percent from the record set the prior year.

Drought struck again in 1980-81 and business fell 25 percent. The four local ski areas still managed to top one million visits for the season.

During the 1989-90 season – the third double-digit drop, to date – skier and rider visits fell 139,035 or about 11 percent from the previous season.

This season will mark the 10th time in 37 seasons that combined skier visits have dropped for the four local ski areas.

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