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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

Wednesday, May 26, 2004


Ski season third best ever

56.8 million skier visits recorded nationwide in 2003-2004

Express Staff Writer

The national ski-resort industry reported its third best season on record in 2003-2004, with an estimated 56.8 million skier and snowboarder visits tallied from California to Maine.

Ski resorts nationwide averaged 191 inches of snowfall during the 2003-2004 season, the National Ski Areas Association reported. Sun Valley Resort last winter recorded 171 inches of natural snowfall.Express photo by Willy Cook

The National Ski Areas Association, a Colorado-based trade organization, released the preliminary figures May 19. The figures are included in an end-of-season report issued by the NSAA and its research consultant RRC Associates, based in Boulder, Colo.

Michael Berry, president of the NSAA, said the report indicates the ski industry—which has been battling an unsettled economy and uncertainty about travel safety—can continue to thrive amid diversity.

"(This report) demonstrates the resilience of the industry and the enduring appeal of skiing and snowboarding," Berry said.

The national ski industry recorded its best season ever in 2002-2003, when an estimated 57.6 million skier visits were recorded. In 2000-2001, the industry recorded 57.3 million skier visits, the second highest total ever.

A skier visit is defined as one person skiing or snowboarding at a mountain resort for any part of one day or night.

The NSAA report notes that the ski industry has reached a level of popularity that has never before been sustained.

"The ski industry has performed strongly in the past four seasons, with the three best seasons all occurring during that four-year span … despite September 11, economic recession and comparatively poor snow everywhere except in the Pacific West," the report states.

Sun Valley Resort recorded approximately 385,000 skier visits during the 2003-2004 ski season. Express photo by Willy Cook

The results of the RRC national survey confirmed that Sun Valley Resort performed well in the 2003-2004 season, despite falling short of expectations.

Sun Valley during the 2003-2004 season recorded 384,897 skier visits, an approximately 5 percent increase over the 365,267 skier visits recorded at the resort during the 2002-2003 season.

According to the report, the Rocky Mountain region—the most significant in terms of skier visits—saw its skier numbers climb 0.3 percent over 2002-2003.

The Rocky Mountain region—including Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico—recorded nearly 18.8 million skier visits last winter.

The NSAA report estimates that skier visits in Colorado dropped approximately 4 percent, while the numbers in Utah jumped some 7 to 9 percent.

Jack Sibbach, Sun Valley Resort director of marketing and sales, said the NSAA report data is generally encouraging.

"I’m upbeat about the industry," he said. "I’m upbeat about skiing and snowboarding."

However, Sibbach said, Sun Valley must guard against placing too much stock in regional trends or comparisons. The resort is unique, he said, largely because it relies much more heavily on long-distance travelers than many other resorts in the Rockies.

"I’m always concerned about what the destination traveler is doing," he said. "Accessibility is key for us … But no matter what we do, it always seems to come down that four-letter word: snow."

Sun Valley recorded its highest skier count ever in 1981-1982, when just over 475,000 skier visits were tallied.

While no region set a record for skier visits last season, the Pacific West region—including Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada and Arizona—was up 8.4 percent in 2003-2004. The strength in the Pacific West, particularly the Pacific Northwest, was attributed primarily to substantial snowfall.

The popularity of snowboarding continues to escalate, the report notes. In 2003-2004, snowboarders accounted for 30.8 percent of the total visits, up from 30 percent the year before.

Meanwhile, season-pass sales continued steady growth in all regions. Nationally, season-pass sales have increased by 38 percent since 2000-2001, reaching an average this year of 5,885 passes sold per resort.

The NSAA report—called the "Kottke End of Season Survey"—included data from 228 of the nation's 492 operating ski resorts. The 228 participating resorts accounted for approximately 45.9 million skier visits this season.

Adjusted final skier-visit numbers will be released by the NSAA in July.


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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.