U.S. ski industry sets new record | AspenTimes.com

U.S. ski industry sets new record

Aspen Times Staff Report
Aspen, CO Colorado

LAKEWOOD, Colo. ” Aspen ski wear manufacturer Klaus Obermeyer likes to say that a snowy winter makes people connected to the ski industry look like geniuses.

There are a lot of geniuses this spring.

The U.S. ski industry crushed its record for skier and snowboarder visits during the 2007-08 season, according to the Lakewood, Colo.-based National Ski Areas Association. The organization’s preliminary numbers show visits topped 60 million for the first time, hitting an estimated 60.1 million. A final tally will be released in July.

“It proves to us that snow trumps everything,” said Michael Berry, NSAA president.

The visits were up 5 million (9 percent) from the 55.1 million recorded in the 2006-07 season. The previous record was 58.9 million visits in 2005-06.

The Aspen Skiing Co. hasn’t announced its skier and rider visits for the season. Skico officials hinted they expect to be in the 1.44 million ballpark that was reached the last couple of seasons.

Figures for the Colorado ski industry will be released next week when Colorado Ski Country USA, a state trade association, holds its annual conference in Crested Butte. Colorado’s ski industry logged a record 12.56 million visits last season. That mark likely will be challenged because of great snow from December through the end of the season.

NSAA said that every region of the country except the southeast reported significantly more snow this winter. That great snow lured dedicated skiers out to the slopes.

“People who were passionate came with greater frequency,” Berry said.

Gains also were made in the “revival category” ” people who quit skiing in their 20s, established careers and families and returned to the sport in their mid- and late-30s, according to Berry.

Resorts of all sizes in all regions contributed to the record season, NSAA said. Resorts in the Rocky Mountain region eclipsed their former record, set in 2006-07, by 2.3 percent.

But not everything is rosy for the ski industry. Soaring fuel prices, the credit crisis and a weakening economy have come into play in a greater way since November, Berry said, and could present challenges to getting people to the slopes next winter.

The 60 million visits isn’t a new benchmark, Berry said. The tally will fall back into the 50-million range in some of the seasons in the near future, he said. Unless, of course, record snow continues.

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