Colorado ski resorts report second busiest season ever in 2016-17
Total visits just shy of 2015-16 record of 13 million
Jason Blevins - The Denver Post
Colorado ski resorts logged close to 13 million skier visits last season in what the industry is calling the second-busiest ski season ever.
Colorado Ski Country on Thursday announced its 22-member resorts counted 7.3 million skier visits in 2016-17, down slightly from the high of 7.4 million tallied in the previous season.
Those numbers don’t include visits to Vail Resorts’ Vail, Breckenridge, Keystone and Beaver Creek, which are some of the busiest ski areas in the state, with more than 5 million combined visits. In April the company, which does not break out individual resort performance for its 10 destination ski resorts in Colorado, Utah, California, Vermont and British Columbia, reported a 2.8 percent annual decline in visits to its North American ski areas.
So it’s likely that Colorado visits stacked up between 12.7 million and 13 million, marking the second busiest season ever, despite a warm fall and largely snowless February and March.
The roller-coaster season, which saw strong snow in December and record-setting dumps across the state in January, proves Colorado’s appeal among skiers and snowboarders, said Ski Country chief Melanie Mills.
“It’s also a testament to the diversity of markets our guests come from,” Mills said. “And deep commitment of core participants to the sport, despite geopolitical events during the past year.”
Skier visits once were the metric for measuring the health of the ski industry. That’s no longer the case. With the prevalence of discounted season passes to nearly every ski area in the West, visits don’t matter as much as pass revenue and guest spending. And both those metrics are growing in Colorado every season.
Vail Resorts earlier this month reported early-season sales of its popular Epic Pass for the 2017-18 ski season were up 10 percent, with revenues up 16 percent compared to the previous year. The continent’s largest resort operator also reported annual increases in visitor spending on dining, lessons, gear rentals and retail in 2016-17.
Revenue-based payments from Colorado resorts operating on Forest Service land have set records three-years in a row, indicating resort guests are spending more on passes, lift-tickets, ski lessons and on-mountain dining.
“Several of our members had record revenue years and some had record visitation,” Mills said. “Where visits were down slightly, business was very strong.”
For four years in a row, visitation to Colorado’s ski areas has surpassed the state’s five-year average. For a couple of those years, the boost could be credited in part to poor snowfall at resorts in California or Utah, the biggest ski states behind Colorado. But not this year.
Bountiful snowfall bolstered California ski areas, some of which are still turning lifts. And Utah’s 14 ski areas in 2016-17 logged a record 4.58 million, besting its 2015-16 high of 4.46 million. The Ski Utah trade group reported the state’s economic impact from skiing reached $1.43 billion, partly due to the increased visitation but also an uptick in skier spending, which grew from $276 per visit in 2014-15 to $296 per visit in 2016-17.
The National Ski Areas Association this month reported skier visits climbed from 52.8 million to 54.7 million in 2016-17, with many ski areas across the country reporting record business over the Christmas – New Year’s holidays.
The resort lodging industry saw a similar decline in occupancy alongside a boost in revenues. Denver-based DestiMetrics, which measures lodging industry health at resorts across the West and, as of this month, transitions to the name Inntopia Business Intelligence, saw mountain resort occupancy fall 0.2 percent in 2016-17, the first decline since 2011-12. But revenues at mountain lodges increased 7.2 percent for the season, as room rates continued to climb.
Sales tax revenues in Colorado’s ski-centric mountain communities continue to climb, marking several years of increased visitor spending in both the summer and winter. An analysis of ski-season taxable sales in Aspen, Breckenridge, Snowmass Village, Steamboat Springs, Telluride and Winter Park shows yet another season of record-setting spending in 2016-17.
December 2016 – March 2017 / December 2015 – March 2016 taxable sales:
Aspen: $351.3m / $331.2m = 6.1 percent increase
Breckenridge: $287.8m / $279.9m = 2.8 percent increase
Crested Butte: $30m / $28.1m = 6.8 percent increase
Snowmass Village: $131.3m / $126.3m = 4 percent increase
Steamboat Springs: $266.7m / $259.1m = 2.9 percent increase
Vail: $370.6m / $389.9m = 4.9 percent decrease
Telluride: $63.4m / $60.5m = 4.8 percent increase
Winter Park: $66.2m / $62.2m = 6.4 percent increase