Excitement building for ski season

Chris Linsmayer
Chris Linsmayer

Phil Castle, The Business Times

New lifts, additional terrain and discounts on season passes add to expectations for a good season at Colorado ski resorts this winter, industry officials say.

“Generally, the outlook is positive,” said Chris Linsmayer, public affairs director for Colorado Ski Country USA, a trade association comprised of 24 resorts. “We’re excited for the upcoming season.”

With sales of season passes up at Powderhorn Mountain Resort east of Grand Junction, Eric Almanar said he’s excited. “It’s going to be a busy year,” said Almanar, marketing and event coordinator at Powderhorn.

Linsmayer and representatives from Powderhorn and three other member ski resorts participated in a media event in Grand Junction to preview the season.

While snowfall remains the ultimate determinant of success, other indicators reflect confidence, Linsmayer said, in particular investments in capital improvements.

That bodes well not only for the ski industry in Colorado, but also the economy. By one estimate, the ski industry contributes $4.8 billion annually to the economy and supports the equivalent of more than 46,000 year-round jobs.

Colorado ski resorts plan to open a total of six new lifts this season, Linsmayer said. That’s important for the Grand Valley because Grand Junction-based Leitner Poma is involved with five of the lifts.

Cooper Mountain plans to open two new lifts — a six-person chairlift with bubble enclosures and a combination lift with six-person chairs and eight-person gondola cabins. Winter Park plans to open a 10-person gondola, the first new lift installation at the resort in more than a decade. The Loveland and Wolf Creek ski areas plan new high-speed quad chairlifts.

Arapahoe Basin plans to open a four-person lift as well as fully open nearly 500 acres of additional terrain in the Beavers and Steep Gullies areas.

Additional dining facilities also are planned at Colorado ski resorts, Linsmayer said.

A new restaurant and bar will open in the base area at the Steamboat Ski Resort, while a snowcat will serve tacos on the slopes. A new base area restaurant also is planned at Copper Mountain, while Wolf Creek will open a new on-mountain grill.

Powderhorn launched a discounted season pass program branded “Mission: Affordable.” The program includes special offers for first-time and beginner skiers.

As of the media event on Sept. 27, sales of season passes to Powderhorn were up 55 percent over the previous  best season for sales, Almanar said.

Adrienne Saia Issac, marketing and communications manager at Arapahoe Basin near Dillon, said the new facilities and pass pricing at Colorado ski resorts reflect an improving economy and expectations for increased business, but also efforts to make skiing more affordable.

Dana Tyler Johnson, director of marketing and sales at Cooper, said sales of season passes also are up for the ski area near Leadville. That’s a function of providing quality skiing and friendly service at a price point that’s affordable for families. Cooper also will offer what’s billed a moonlight dining series in which participants will ride a snowcat to the Ridgeview Cafe at the top of the ski area.

Sunlight Mountain Resort nearly Glenwood Springs will offer free skiing and snowboarding to firefighters and first responders each Wednesday during the upcoming season, said Amanda Hatley, marketing and event coordinator.

Sunlight Mountain Resort also has formed additional season pass partnerships offering access to more than 80 free ski days at other resorts across not only Colorado, but also the United States and even Europe, Hatley said.

Ski resorts that belong to Colordo Ski Country USA reported a slight decline in business for the 2017-2018 season that corresponded with less snowfall early in the season. But the latest total for skier visits still tops the five-year average.

The 24 resorts of the group reported a total of 7.1 million skier visits during the 2017-2018 ski season. A skier visit represents one person skiing or snowboarding for any part of one day. The latest total fell 2 percent short of the 7.3 million skier visits recorded during the 2016-2017 season, but also was 5 percent higher than the five-year average.