US ski industry on the rise, Aspen Skiing Co. on the decline in pandemic winter


A group of skiers and snowboarders descended the mountain on Saturday January 16, 2021 at the Snowmass ski area. (Photo by Austin Colbert / The Aspen Times)

As the ski industry in the United States recorded its fifth best season ever in 2020-2021, Aspen Skiing Co. has had a tough winter during the pandemic.

The Denver-based National Ski Areas Association reported on Tuesday that the nationwide resort had about 59 million visits by skiers and snowboarders this winter. Many resorts have been able to capitalize on people’s strong desire to get out during the COVID-19 pandemic. A big trend was for people to stay close to home and ski the hills of their hometown or the ski resorts closest to them, according to the NSAA.

According to Jeff Hanle, vice president of communications for Skico, Aspen Skiing Co. had a tough time as international travel was almost non-existent and fewer “long haul” US travelers ventured for travel.

“These two pieces are really what we haven’t seen this year,” he said on Tuesday.

The year started off slowly for Skico as Australians could not travel here in droves as they usually do in January. The group’s activity was wiped out due to capacity limitations and physical distancing requirements. Many domestic travelers have canceled their trips as the pandemic worsened and Pitkin County required arrivals to sign an affidavit acknowledging that they had not had COVID symptoms for 10 days and had been vaccinated or had a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of arrival. Pitkin County. Visitors were also to be quarantined for 10 days if they were not tested before arrival.

Also, the snow was filthy in January. All of these factors contributed to a difficult start to the ski season.

“January and early February were about as bad as they could be for us,” Hanle said.

In contrast, mid-March to mid-April was better than even a “normal” year, according to Hanle.

“We had just under 1.2 million visits,” he said.

This was down between 3% and 4% from 2019-2020, which was on track to break a record before the ski season came to a screeching halt on orders from Colorado Governor Jared Polis on March 14, 2020. .

However, Skico was down about 20% in visits from skiers and snowboarders for its five-year average, according to Hanle.

Local skiers and riders took advantage of their opportunities on the slopes. Seasonal season ticket sales and usage have skyrocketed.

“We saw very strong use of the passes,” said Hanle.

While Skico officials are optimistic about building late season momentum next season, there is still a lot of uncertainty. The main reservation period for many overseas travelers is coming soon. Skico and its partners are offering incentives by promising full refunds for lift tickets and accommodation to international guests who cannot travel next winter due to the pandemic.

“At this point, we don’t expect to see the Australians in January (2021),” Hanle said.

For the US ski industry as a whole, 2020-2021 has exceeded expectations. The last season was on par with 2018-19, with 59.34 million visits.

The ski industry’s record season was 2010-2011, with 60.54 million visits. The 2007-08 season was the only other to surpass 60 million.

The 10-year average of national skier visits is nearly 55 million, which puts the strength of the latest campaign into perspective.

After being forced to abruptly close from March 15, 2020, most stations were able to remain open throughout the season this winter. The average American resort was open 112 days this winter compared to 99 days the previous campaign. In the NSAA’s annual Kottke end-of-season survey, 78% of resorts that responded said the season had exceeded their expectations.

“Small and medium-sized ski areas (defined by lift capacity) performed well this winter, with more customers choosing to stay close to home for ski trips, and increased local demand for ski recreation. outdoors in general, ”the NSAA said in its statement.

Many resorts have been forced to adopt capacity limits for skiers and runners on the slopes and in indoor facilities such as restaurants. The pandemic has also reinforced the ski industry’s tendency to encourage the purchase of lift tickets in advance.

Lift ticket counter sales have fallen from 46% in 2019-2020 to just 17% in 2020-21, according to the NSAA. Visits related to the use of the pass have increased from 45% in 2019-2020 to 51% this winter.

Skiers and riders have also shown their flexibility by hitting the slopes more frequently during the week. Weekday visits were responsible for 48% of the total visits. That was up 27% from the previous season, according to the NSAA.

A strong season for ski tours didn’t necessarily mean the resorts made money. Income data is still being analyzed, but the NSAA noted that ski lessons have fallen 30% season after season. Public health ordinances prohibited large groups, so ski areas had to offer smaller classes.

Hanle said Skico officials are not despairing because national visits are up while Skico is down. The 2020-21 season has proven that people want to be outside and always want to hit the slopes, he said.

“We don’t see it as people did better than us,” Hanle said. Instead, company officials say the message for the season is that people still want to ski and ride. “Better luck next year” is the prevailing attitude.

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