Four years ago, I moved to Colorado largely to take advantage of the state’s 26 ski mountains. I grew up skiing icy slopes in the east and so the promise of cutting turns in knee-deep Rocky Mountain powder lured me to the Centennial State. Plenty of transplants tell a similar tale. But this past season, for the first time since moving to Colorado, I didn’t buy a ski pass. No, I didn’t have a crystal ball that foretold the season’s dismal snowfall. Buying a ski pass simply became a difficult financial choice to justify. After I read this year’s annual reports on the state’s ski industry from Vail Resorts and Colorado Ski Country, I wondered if others felt like me.
Skier visits at the 22 resorts represented by Colorado Ski County were down 11.4 percent from the previous season and 11.9 percent when compared with the five-year average. Visits at Vail Resorts’ Colorado mountains—Keystone, Breckenridge, Vail, and Beaver Creek—were down 8.9 percent. That’s a lot. (790,000 visitors, in the case of the Colorado Ski Country figure.) But, to be fair, the winter produced a well-below-average amount of snow. (Vail Resorts reported cumulative snowfall at its resorts down 50 percent from the previous year.)
More telling, though, are the bright spots. At Vail Resorts’ mountains, per-skier revenue from ski school, dining, and retail and rental operations increased 13.4 percent. If I’m reading this right, fewer skiers at Vail Resorts’ mountains produced more revenue. So, everyone who went skiing decided to spend more (entirely possible) or they bought the same stuff they always do, but it cost more. Skiing is expensive, and it keeps getting more expensive. Lift-ticket prices creep up each year. The cost of a soda and a few chicken fingers in the lodge seems to do the same. I wonder how long this trend is sustainable? Is there a tipping point when weekend warriors won’t show up to the mountains even when the snow is knee-deep?
There was for me.
But maybe I’m reading too much into this. Maybe snow will always be the great equalizer, no matter the cost. Melanie Mills, president and CEO of Colorado Ski Country thinks so: “Fortunately, seasons such as the one that just ended have proved to be historically rare and the ski industry has exhibited a remarkable ability to bounce back afer poor snow years in the past.” And, after all, Wolf Creek, consistently one of the snowiest mountains in the state, set a record for attendance this past season.
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