By Matt Whittaker / NewsBreak Denver
(Lakewood, Colo.) Rocky Mountain region ski resorts recorded more visits than ever during the 2022-2023 season as a bumper snow year helped lure people to the slopes, contributing to a national visitation record.
The Rocky Mountain region set a record for the second consecutive season with 27.91 million skier visits, up 10.5% from the previous season, according to data this month from the Lakewood-based National Ski Areas Association. The data is preliminary as some ski areas remain open, including Colorado’s Arapahoe Basin and Winter Park.
“Historically, fluctuations in skier visit numbers could be correlated with snowfall; more snow generally meant more skier visits,” the trade association said. “This season was no different, with record snow totals at western ski areas contributing to increased visitation frequency, despite weather-related travel challenges.”
Many ski areas in the Rocky Mountain region experienced their snowiest season in the past 10 years, reporting an average of 343 inches, well over the 10-year average of 260 inches, said Adrienne Saia Isaac, association director of marketing and communications.
Ski areas in the region operated for an average of 134 days, the longest average in the past 10 years, she said.
Rockies contribute to national record
Nationally, visitation also set a record, with resorts across the country tallying 64.7 million skier visits, a 6.6% increase over the previous season, said the association, which counts a skier visit as every time someone uses a lift ticket or pass at a ski area.
The association said that average snowfall at ski areas nationally totaled 224 inches, a 30% increase over the 10-year average of 173 inches, resulting in an average season length of 116 days, an increase of six days over the previous season.
The robust snow year in the Rockies was just one factor contributing to the national visitation record.
Growing options for season passes and frequency products and an increased desire to get outside, especially among people wanting to return to the slopes after the pandemic, were also factors, the association said.
The number of operating ski areas also jumped from 473 last season to 481 this season but that growth contributed only marginally to the overall increase in visits, the association said.
“While the increases in visitation this season can be partially attributed to abundant snowfall, you also have to take into account other factors like multi-mountain passes and the post-pandemic boom in the desire to get outside,” Isaac said.
Weather a double-edged sword for ski resorts
While an exceptionally snowy season helped boost visitation to ski resorts, it also caused some travel challenges.
Visitation at Broomfield-based Vail Resorts’ western ski areas took a hit from airline travel disruptions during the peak holiday season, CEO Kirsten Lynch said in a press release in March accompanying the company’s 2023 fiscal second quarter financial results. Its Tahoe resorts were also disrupted by severe weather.
“In Tahoe, significant snowstorms continued to impact resort access and limited our ability to fully open our resorts throughout the remainder of the quarter,” Lynch said.
But visitation improved and by April 16 the company’s season-to-date total skier visits were up 6.1% from the comparable period last season, the company said in an April press release.
Staffing improves, but worker shortage persists
Staffing shortages that were the bane of ski resorts during the 2021-2022 season eased during the 2022-2023 season.
Nationwide, 60% of ski areas reported being understaffed, down from 81% last season, the ski areas association said.
The average number of positions left unfilled decreased from last year’s high of 72 to an average of 39 this season, the association said. Meanwhile, average ski area wages increased 18% from the 2021-22 season, well outpacing the national average of 4.6%.
Vail Resorts’ ski school, dining, and retail sales and rental businesses saw “strong growth” compared with the prior season when they were negatively impacted by capacity constraints driven by staffing shortages, Lynch said in the April press release.
“The return to normal staffing levels enabled our mountain resorts to deliver a strong guest experience resulting in a significant improvement in guest satisfaction scores, which have exceeded pre-COVID levels at our destination resorts,” she said.