For decades, traffic to American ski resorts has relied on one thing: snow.
Big snowfall meant big business.
But the busiest season ever in American skiing — 2021-22, with an all-time record 61 million skier days — hasn’t been a remarkable snow year.
Previous highs for national skier visits were set in 2010-2011, 2007-2008 and 2009-2010. These seasons were snowy, with almost all regions reporting above average snowfall. The nation was locked in an economic crisis in those years, which confirmed the resort industry’s longstanding assertion that snowfall trumps everything and business thrives when the snowflakes s ‘pile deep.
The 2021-22 season dispels that notion. After a decade of largely flat visits — falling to 51 million in 2011-12 and 59.3 million in 2019-20 — the rebound to an all-time high bodes well for a 37-state industry that is seeing growing demand and season pass sales overtake snow as the main driver.
“Strong season pass sales and a continued desire for outdoor recreation are two of the key factors contributing to the season’s record results,” read a statement from the National Ski Areas Association, which announced. the new record at its annual conference in Nashville. Friday.
NSAA spokeswoman Adrienne Saia Isaac said “a major factor” in the national record was the nearly 100 ski areas in six Rocky Mountain states that saw 25.2 million visits, an increase of 12% compared to last season. Vail Resorts, the largest operator in North America, announced in late April that visits to its US and Canadian ski areas increased 12.5% for the 2021-22 season compared to the previous year.
Here are some details about these ski areas in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.
132: Days of operation, above the ten-year average.
58%: Share of stations that opened late.
6%: Share of resorts that closed earlier.
228: Inches of snow, slightly below the 10-year average.
4: Number of ski areas opened in 2021-22 that were not open in 2020-21.
Colorado Ski Country, the trade group that represents 22 of the state’s 28 ski areas, has not announced 2021-2022 tours for its member resorts. Last year, the trade group estimated about 12 million skier visits, an increase from the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season but about 4% below Colorado’s five-year average.
Visits to ski areas in Colorado peaked in 2018-19, when resorts had 13.8 million ski days.
Vail Resorts, which operates five Colorado ski resorts that host more than 5.5 million skier visits annually, including the state’s busiest resorts, Vail and Breckenridge, does not report skier visits by station or even by state. (That 5.5 million estimate comes from the company’s historical number of Colorado Hills visits and its published annual growth figures.)
Last year, the company said it sold 2.1 million lift tickets and advance season passes. Vail Resorts’ rival, Alterra Mountain Co., is privately held and doesn’t release statistics, but its Ikon Pass is hugely popular. The Mountain Collective Pass, the Indy Pass, the Powder Alliance bring together independent stations in unique passes. And most ski resorts offer their own season pass.
Independent ski areas with their own packages flourished last winter as Vail Resorts and Alterra Mountain Co. battled for market share of season passes.
The boom in season passes – once reserved for the most dedicated skiers – has changed the resort industry. Passes generate revenue before the lifts turn, removing the heavy reliance on snowfall from resort results. Revenue from the passes allowed stations to invest more during the summer months. And the passes boosted visits.
Yet passes have reduced the importance of skier visits. The skier day metric used to be a critical gauge, with each visit tied to the purchase of a lift ticket. Now resorts collect a season’s worth of lift ticket revenue before the snow falls, making the number of times the pass is used financially less important.
But operationally, the impact of record season ticket sales is a different story. A deluge of pass holders overwhelmed understaffed ski areas last winter, causing industry-wide headaches, particularly at Vail Resorts. The NSAA said 81% of U.S. ski areas were unable to fill all jobs last season, with an average of 75 vacancies at each resort. Ski areas around the world are raising wages and increasing benefits for the 2022-23 season.
For the third season in a row, season passes eclipse lift tickets in the visit tally. Skiers with season passes accounted for 52% of all national visits, compared to 37% using day lift tickets. (The remaining 11% are furloughed workers and free tickets.) The NSAA’s preliminary report for the 2021-22 season showed ski areas of all sizes across the country increased season pass sales. Last year.
Ski areas in the United States plan to invest $728 million in 2022, the NSAA reported. This is an absolute record. Vail Resorts, for example, plans to spend up to $325 million on its ski areas this summer, including the installation of 19 new chairlifts. Alterra Mountain Co. is planning the largest-ever investment of $344 million across its 15 resorts. Across the sector, more resorts are investing in lifts, terrain and villages, marking a banner year for lift manufacturers like Grand Junction’s Leitner Poma and Europe’s Doppelmayr.
“The whole world is changing,” Leitner Poma of America boss Daren Cole told the Colorado Sun last December. “And next year will be off the charts.”