Friday, May 7, 2010

U.S. ski areas post 2nd-best season ever

59.7 million visits tallied nationwide

Express Staff Writer

At Sun Valley Resort, above, just more than 400,000 skiers and snowboarders hit the slopes at the two ski mountains. Express file photo

Sun Valley Resort wasn't the only ski area to have a good season despite below-normal snowfall. The country's ski resorts, as a whole, recorded the second highest number of skier visits on record, even though 14 percent less snow fell at ski areas nationwide, according to the preliminary 2009-10 Kottke National End of Season Survey.

Sixty-nine percent of ski areas reported increased business.

The 2009-10 season tallied 59.7 million visits, only 1.2 percent below the all-time record of 60.5 million in 2007-08.

The industry exceeded its 10-year average by 3.9 percent, a benchmark exceeded in all regions. The Northeast beat its 10-year visit average by 1.1 percent, Southeast by 9.9 percent, Midwest by 2.1 percent, Rocky Mountains by 4.3 percent, Pacific Southwest by 4.7 percent and the Pacific Northwest by 5.7 percent.

The area seeing the largest gain in business, the Southeast, got almost twice as much snow as it did in 2008-09. All other regions, except the Pacific Southwest, received 20 to 32 percent less snow. The Pacific Southwest increased snowfall by 8 percent.

Sun Valley snowfall was 15 percent below the average, but the resort still managed to beat its average of 383,789 skier visits by 4 percent. The resort tallied 400,023 skier visits by its closing on April 18. The story repeated itself at Brundage Mountain Resort near McCall and Schweitzer Mountain Resort near Sandpoint in northern Idaho.

Brundage only received 245 inches of snow, 80 inches shy of the norm. But the ski area recorded its "best season on record," according to spokeswoman April Russell. She said the resort doesn't release skier-visit numbers, but the "financial success" of the season was unmatched.

She said that's a "big feat" considering Brundage opened late, on Dec. 20, due to scant snow. Russell said Brundage was lucky to have a cold winter and not lose any of the snow that did land.

"The conditions really outperformed the statistics this year," she said.

A reflection of this is that Brundage's last lift day was May 1, the second time in the resort's 48-year history that it was open into May. Late-season snowfall enabled the resort to extend its season three weekends. And 13 inches of powder fell for the final day.

Schweitzer skies also dropped few flakes, dispersing only 177 inches compared to the 300-inch average. Even though the ski area received half of 2008-09's snowfall, it pulled off a 7.5 percent skier-visit increase, seeing 217,000 skier visits.

"Our challenge this year was battling the perception of our snowpack level," said Schweitzer CEO Tom Chasse.

The ski area also extended its winter, to April 11, due to late-season snow.

Light snow was a concern across the Rockies. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort spokesman Zahan Billimoria said the Wyoming resort had a 400-inch snow total, but 50 inches came during closing week.

"During the first 55 days of a 128-day season, we had the arguably lowest recorded snowfall of the past 30 years," said resort President Jerry Blann.

And yet, Jackson Hole posted the fourth highest visitation level in its 45-year history with nearly 414,000 skier visits.

Trevon Milliard:

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