Ski industry officials hope for another record-breaking year

Phil Castle
Phil Castle

Phil Castle, The Business Times

While snowfall remains the ultimate determinant of success, other indicators point to what industry officials hope will be another record-breaking ski season in Colorado.

“At this point, there’s no reason we’re not going to have another fantastic season,” said Chris Linsmayer, public affairs manager for Colorado Ski Country USA.

Resorts that belong to the trade association continue to invest in new lifts and other improvements with the expectation of returns, Linsmayer said.

Additional commercial air flights and the resumption of train service between Denver and Winter Park will be available to transport more people to the slopes, he said.

Promotions and special events will help as well, he said, including 50th anniversary seasons at both Powderhorn Mountain Resort east of Grand Junction and Sunlight Mountain Resort south of Glenwood Springs and a 70th anniversary season at Arapahoe Basin. Aspen will host the World Cup finals in March, bringing the prestigious skiing competition to the United States for the first time in 20 years.

A good season is important not only for the ski industry in Colorado, but also the economy. According to a study conducted last year, the industry contributes $4.8 billion annually to the state economy and supports the equivalent of more than 46,000 year-round jobs.

Fortunately for the ski industry and economy, the snow business has been good business in recent years.

The 21 resorts that belong to Colorado Ski Country USA reported a record 7.4 million skier visits during the 2015-2016 season. That number constituted a 5 percent increase over the season before and 10 percent gain over the five-year average. A skier visit constitutes one person skiing or snowboarding for any part of one day.

At Powderhorn, a new high-speed quad chairlift and other improvements led to a
45 percent increase in skier visits for the 2015-2016 season and the highest total since new owners bought the resort in 2012.

Linsmayer said Colorado ski resorts expect to continue that momentum with what he described as “significant” capital investments. That includes a new lift at Steamboat Springs and new restaurants at the Aspen and Copper Mountain resorts.

Additional commercial air flights are planned for the upcoming ski season, including twice-weekly flights operated by Allegiant Airlines between Denver and Montrose to bring skiers and snowboarders to resorts in Southwest Colorado.

A ski train will transport skiers and snowboarders between downtown Denver and the Winter Park resort on weekends and holidays between January and the end of March, Linsmayer said. Thanks to the addition of commuter rail service between Denver International Airport and Union Station, skiers and snowboarders could fly into Denver and take the train to Winter Park and forego a rental car or driving, he said.

Members of Colorado Ski Country USA also will offer early season promotions to entice customers, including discounted lift tickets, lessons and lodging.

Powderhorn is scheduled to open Dec. 15 for the ski season and will offer free skiing to children age 6 and under all season. Guests can book lodging at the SlopeSide Inn less than 100 feet away from the new Flat Top Flyer lift for as little as $179.

Sunlight, set to open Dec. 9, will offer what’s billed as a Slope & Soak 4 Pack that combines four adult lift tickets with four day passes to the Iron Mountain Hot Springs in Glenwood Springs.

Arapahoe Basin will sell a pass for any four days of the season for $169 for adults and $109 for children ages 6 to 14.

Snow — and plenty of it — remains the principal factor in bringing business to Colorado resorts during the ski season. Meanwhile, though, there’s every expectation for success, Linsmayer said. “There’s exciting things happening all over the state.”