Good year, but not great, for ski industry

Brief by Allen Best

Recreation – July 2005 – Colorado Central Magazine

It was a good but not great year for Colorado ski areas. On one hand, the ski areas collectively posted 11.81 million skier days, the third biggest year on record. The record year was set 7 years before.

Also promising was the return of lucrative out-of-state destination visitors, whose ranks swelled by 7%. Notable was the 28% increase in international visitors. Colorado Ski Country USA, the trade group, said that the United Kingdom, the largest international market, produced 31% more skiers this past winter, while visits from Australia grew 25% and those from Latin America grew 16%.

But given the good snow across much of the state, the roaring economy, and the lingering of Baby Boomers on the slopes even as their offspring, the Echo Boomers, arrive – well, the numbers could have been better.

Ford Frick, an economist who studies ski industry trends, said the numbers are a testament that the industry has been pulling itself together during the last 4 or 5 years. Ski areas have created attractive pricing plans while successfully targeting key growth areas, he noted. However, at the end of the day, the numbers indicated a “good but not great” ski season. “I don’t think we’ll again see double-digit growth,” he said, alluding to the years in the 1970s and early 1980s when double-digit gains were as common as Baby Boomers came of age.

In individual areas, Crested Butte did the best, although ski area officials said a whopping 12% gain did not translate into profits. Most of the gain, they said, was due to use of season passes.

The Aspen Skiing Co. said business at its four ski mountains was up 3.3%, although the all-important destination business was up 5.6%. Vail Resorts was up overall 4.4% at its four ski mountains. Intrawest has not announced gains at its two ski areas.

Among individual ski areas, Keystone returned to the ranks of the millionaires club (over 1 million skiers), Breckenridge notched a record of 1.47 million, as did Beaver Creek, its third consecutive record. Vail barely budged off last year’s numbers, but no matter; it continued to be North America’s busiest ski resort.