Friday, March 12, 2010

Resort predicts solid skier count

Sun Valley has eye on 400,000 mark


By TREVON MILLIARD
Express Staff Writer

Ticket checker Jerry Boesel, right, uses a scanner Wednesday to check the lift ticket of Alan Yang at the base of Bald Mountain. Photo by David N. Seelig

Sun Valley Resort won't be releasing any season skier numbers until after Bald Mountain closes—planned for April 18—but spokesman Jack Sibbach said this week that crowds are on track for exceeding the 2008-09 season.

In past seasons, Sun Valley Resort has given cumulative skier numbers for Dollar and Bald mountains during the season, but that policy changed this year. Sibbach said the change may or may not be permanent for seasons to come.

"We'll see how it works," he said.

Even though this winter is currently on track to surpass last season, Sibbach admitted that last winter's skier total isn't a good benchmark for comparison. It was a "down year," drawing in 331,239 skiers and boarders. That's the lowest ski count since the 1990-91 season's total of 236,627, and the 12th worst since skier number data began to be collected in 1971.

The 2008-09 lull still drew in three times the amount of people compared to the worst season on record, 1976-77, when scarce snow brought only 80,000 people onto the slopes. However, the season was still below the 357,107 average annual skier count through 2009.

Will skiers this year exceed that average?

Sibbach said the season's pace is tracking behind but close to the 2007-08 season, which ended with a total of 410,615 skiers after 149 lift days.

This season is planned to have 143 days, 19 more than last year. That's another reason that beating last year's skier total isn't a great achievement. The true tell-all will be calculating the average number of skiers per day.

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In order to reach those 143 days, the weather must cooperate up to the April 18 Baldy closing date. Dollar Mountain is set to close April 4. And it's been a mild season.

Sun Valley Resort reports 153 inches of snow being the current season total. The 14-year average for a season stands at about 225 inches of snow. In order to meet that by season's end, Baldy needs 6 feet of snow in a month's time.

A season's success hinges on snowfall, even in this recession. That's the message of Michael Berry, president of the Colorado-based National Ski Areas Association. About 320 American alpine resorts belong to the association, accounting for more than 90 percent of the skier/snowboarder visits nationwide.

Berry said the association doesn't give nationwide skier-count numbers until the season is over because March usually sees an influx of customers. Looking at current numbers, Berry said he predicts about 58 million skiers and snowboarders for the season total. That would make 2009-10 the third best season of the last quarter century. He said the best season was two years ago, when 60.1 million people hit the slopes.

"The economy is out of the equation to some extent," Berry said. "It's about what it has always been about."

That's snow.

Berry said that despite many Rocky Mountain resorts experiencing a dry season, Eastern resorts have seen abundant powder.

"Taking a macro look, it has been a great year overall," he said.

The National Weather Service reported on Feb. 12 that every state except Hawaii had received snow, an "extreme" rarity.

Still, Berry said, "variations" in weather have long been the issue in southern Idaho. That has been true this season. And, Berry said, the economy couldn't be solely blamed for a slow season.

"If the snow is good, people are coming," he said.

Trevon Milliard: tmilliard@mtexpress.com




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