Ski industry hoping for record year |

Ski industry hoping for record year

Sandy Shore / The Associated Press
Dan Thrift / Tribune file photo A snowboarder carves through some fresh powder at Heavenly Mountain Resort after a large snowfall in January.

Forget baseball and spring flowers. The nation’s ski resorts are all about skiing and snowboarding – still.

Snow fell Monday in parts of the country including Colorado and Vermont, capping a bountiful winter that could lead to a record-setting season for the $6 billion industry. A year ago, resorts posted a 7 percent drop in visitors nationwide because of a fickle winter.

“It’s actually been one of those rare years where it’s been winter from coast to coast,” said Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association. “It may very well be a record year.”

In the Rockies, mild weather hurt resorts in November and early December, but heavy snowfall since then has proved a boon for business.

Resorts of all sizes on the West Coast and in the Midwest and Northeast have had strong numbers, Berry said.

Most resorts around Lake Tahoe are scheduled to close by the end of April, but Heavenly Mountain Resort and Alpine Meadows intend to remain open until May 4, and Squaw Valley USA until May 11, a week later than last year.

The industry’s record for skier visits is 58.9 million, set in 2005-06. A skier visit is an industry measure representing the sale and use of one lift ticket per day.

In Colorado, several resorts saw nearly 2 feet of fresh snow last weekend, including 15 inches at Vail, 19 inches at Beaver Creek and 18 inches at Steamboat Springs. Aspen Highlands, Monarch, Purgatory and Wolf Creek ski areas all have extended their seasons.

“We had awful snow through the middle of December. We’ve had unbelievable snow from the middle of December on,” Vail Resorts Inc. Chief Executive Officer Rob Katz said Monday.

Vail Resorts, the nation’s largest ski operator, said skier visits at its five resorts fell 3.9 percent from November to Dec. 22. Katz said they have seen improvements in January and February but declined to release updated numbers.

Based in suburban Broomfield, Colo., Vail Resorts owns and operates Vail, Beaver Creek, Keystone and Breckenridge ski areas in Colorado, Heavenly in Nevada and California, and lodges in Wyoming.

In Vermont, it was “snowing like crazy” Monday, said Tori Ossola of the trade group Ski Vermont, whose resort members are optimistic about besting the typical skier visit total that ranges between 4.2 million and 4.5 million each season.

A year ago, Vermont and other ski areas in the eastern United States had a slow start to the season as stingy snowfall hurt business on holiday weekends.

Ossola said this year was the opposite, with heavy snow falling before Thanksgiving, Christmas and Martin Luther King Jr. Day. “We had all of the major holidays covered, and it seems like Mother Nature was making up for what she did to us last year,” she said. “The timing of the storms was just perfect.”

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