Season pass-holders' passion for powder helped Aspen Skiing Co. turn in a respectable performance in 2010-11, company officials said Wednesday as Colorado ski industry officials gathered in Aspen for an annual conference.
Skico posted a 1.7 percent increase in skier and rider visits compared to the prior season, company spokesman Jeff Hanle said. "Most of that increase was pass usage," he said.
Destination business from travelers taking an overnight vacation was flat, according to Hanle.
Lots of early-season snow motivated Roaring Fork Valley residents to hit the slopes. While conditions were somewhat dry in the valley floor for much of the season, the snowpack above 8,000 feet hit near-record levels. When it snows more, locals ski and ride more.
Skico's preliminary tally didn't include skiers who flocked to Aspen Mountain for the extended season on Memorial Day weekend.
Colorado's ski industry as a whole performed slightly better than Skico. Colorado Ski Country USA (CSCUSA) announced at its annual summer conference in Aspen on Wednesday that skier and rider visits were up 2.6 percent for its 22 member resorts.
"Overall, we're quite happy with where we ended up," said Melanie Mills, president and CEO of Colorado Ski Country, a trade association for ski areas in the state.
The numbers are preliminary. Mills said additions will be made for late-season business at Aspen Mountain and Arapahoe Basin as well as adjustments to reporting by some of its members.
The ski areas in the trade association logged a total of about 6.9 million skier and rider visits, Mills said. The figure doesn't include business at Vail Resorts' ski areas of Vail Mountain, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone. Vail Resorts isn't a member of the trade association.
Assuming those areas also saw a 2.6 percent increase, that puts the Colorado ski industry over the 12 million mark for skier visits for the first time since 2007-08, prior to the recession, Mills said.
Resorts got a boost last season because people started traveling more as the recession eased a bit, Mills said. Resorts also capitalized on "a classic snow year," she said. The increase likely would have been greater if not for a cold snap that brought temperatures as low as 22-below to some resorts on Presidents Day weekend. "That will hurt you a little bit in the skier-visit market," Mills said.
Colorado Ski Country's member resorts logged about 6.74 million visits during the 2009-10 season. That was up only 0.4 percent from the prior season.
The National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) in Lakewood, Colo., had already announced that U.S. resorts logged 60.1 million skier and rider visits last season. That is an increase of about 0.6 percent from the prior year. It's also the second-best season ever for the ski industry.
"Some people will talk about the golden days of skiing. If you're an operator, these are the golden days of skiing," NSAA President Michael Berry said in an address to the Colorado Ski Country USA conference.
Several long-term factors indicate the strength of the industry, he said. Skier visits have increased at about a 1 percent compounded annual growth rate over the last 20 years, Berry said, calling that a solid performance. The amount of competition isn't increasing; the number of alpine ski areas hovers around 486.
Most importantly, he said, the ski industry is already positioned well with Generation Y, those between ages 11 and 29. They make up 44 percent of all skiers and riders. The industry needs to focus on retaining them, and getting them to introduce friends to the sport, Berry said.
Colorado continues to gobble up the largest share of the skier and rider market. Its resorts log 20.4 percent of annual visits nationwide. California is next highest with 12.1 percent. Vermont's share is 7.1 percent while New York is at 6.9 percent. Utah rounds out the top five states with 6.8 percent of the market.