Powderhorn skips downhill slide in skier visits

Powderhorn Mountain Resort atop the Grand Mesa skipped a downhill slide in reporting an increase in skiers and snowboarders last season even as other Colorado resorts experienced declines in the midst of an unusually dry and warm winter.

“Much of the ski industry in the U.S. was confronted with weather challenges last year. But several of our resorts bucked the national trend and showed signs of resilience during what was clearly an uninspiring winter,” said Melanie Mills, president and chief executive officer of Colorado Ski Country USA.

Powderhorn reported in April a 15 percent increase in pass sales for the 2011-2012 season and a 5 percent increase in overall skier visits. One skier visit represents one person skiing or snowboarding for any part of one day.

Colorado Ski Country USA announced in early June the 22 resorts that belong to the trade association hosted a total of nearly 6.2 million skier visits. That figure constitutes an 11.4 percent decrease from last season, which was the fourth busiest on record. Compared to the five-year average, skier visits at member resorts were down 11.9 percent during the 2011-2012 season.

“Fortunately, seasons such as the one just ended have proved to be historically rare, and the ski industry has exhibited a remarkable ability to bounce back after poor snow years in the past,” said Mills.

Given certain assumptions, total skier visits for Colorado were estimated at more than 11 million, down 9.8 percent from last season. On a national level, skier visits were down 15.7 percent, with the Rocky Mountain region experiencing a 7.2 percent decrease.

While abundant snow in the fall allowed some ski resorts to open early and storms brought heavy snows in the middle of the season, precipitation overall was down.

The Western Slope experienced its third driest and seventh warmest winter on records dating back to 1895. In Western Colorado, winter precipitation was 43 percent below average. Statewide, March was the driest in more than 100 years.

“We’ve had dry years in the past and we’ll have dry years again,” Mills said. “Not every year can be a record-breaking year. And with nary a snowflake in what is normally our snowiest month in Colorado, season visitation numbers are disappointing, but not unexpected.”

At Powderhorn, timely storms that dumped more snow there than at many other Colorado resorts helped bolster skier visits during the season.

“We were fortunate in a number of ways this season,” said Daren Cole, general manager at the resort. “We had great early season snow and were able to maintain coverage consistently through the season. The snow gods were kind to us this year.”

The 2011-2012 season was the first under new ownership for Powderhorn. Ken, John and Tom Gart joined with Andy Daly in purchasing Powderhorn and about 700 acres of undeveloped land nearby at an auction last August. Their venture purchased the ski area and land for a total of just over $1.4 million.

The Gart family, which has been synonymous with sports in Colorado for more than 80 years in operating two chains of sporting goods stores, brought financial resources to the venture. Daly, a veteran of the Colorado ski industry who has managed nine resorts, brought his experience.

The new owners lowered prices on season passes while investing about $800,000 in improvements.

“Across the board we were able to deliver a great experience,” Cole said. “From enhanced guest service and employee interaction to the amazing grooming and snow management on the hill, the team provided an exceptional product for our guests.”

Cole said he expects to build on the success of the inaugural season under new ownership. “Based on what we’ve learned this year, we’re all looking forward to next season and the future.”