|By Jason Blevins, The Denver Post|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
June 11, 2004 - ASPEN, Colo. -- With undeniable optimism, Colorado's ski resort leaders announced a 3.4 percent annual decline in ski visitors last season.
The tumble from 11.6 million visits in 2002-03 to 11.2 million in 2003-04 was good news to the nation's leading ski state because of a rebound in out-of-state and international vacationers. Virtually all of the total decline came from in-state "day" skiers, many of whom pay for their season passes long before the snow flies. Resorts said their bottom lines improved.
"We are getting back to a pretty good mix of in-state and out-of-state visitors," Rob Perlman, president of Colorado Ski Country, said at the trade group's annual meeting Thursday.
A steadily dwindling number of destination skiers over the past six years put the $2.5 billion Colorado resort industry on high alert last season. Those vacationers spend as much as five times more than day skiers, and their declining numbers pinched revenues. Compounding the problem was a deluge of day skiers -- each toting deeply discounted season passes -- flooding higher-priced destination resorts.
For 2003-04, the percentage of in-state skiers fell from 42 percent to 40 percent. Most of that decline came from fickle Front Rangers distracted by high temperatures and less-than-stellar snowfall at resorts off Interstate 70.
March was the main culprit in the decline, with unseasonably warm, dry temperatures in metro Denver keeping skiers home.
"We were so strong coming into February and then came the 80-degree temperatures," said Rob Linde, spokesman for Eldora Mountain Resort in Boulder County, which relies almost exclusively on day skiers. "It was unprecedented. We could not have given it away for free." Loveland Ski Area, which depends on day skiers along with Eldora, also suffered in March. Last season both resorts saw a 10 percent decline from record performances in 2002-03.
But the warm weather didn't derail Powderhorn on the Western Slope, which posted its second-best year despite a reliance on day skiers.
"I think this proves that people want to go to places they've never been," said Kathy Dirks, spokeswoman for Powderhorn.
The decline in day traffic was a sidenote at Thursday's industry rally, where the celebration of a 10 percent increase in international vacationers carried the day. The number of Australian and New Zealand skiers carving Colorado slopes climbed by 41 percent. German skiers climbed by 38 percent. The weakened value of the dollar made American ski vacations more appealing for value-hunting international vacationers. The spike here translated to a decline for Canadian ski areas.
"Across the board, vacation wholesalers saw demand for Canada down and Colorado and Utah up," said Bruce Rosard, president of the Moguls Mountain Travel firm based in Boulder.
Aspen Skiing Co.'s four ski hills posted a modest 1 percent increase in total visitors. with a 26 percent increase in international visitors. Local sales tax revenues also increased.
Aspen Skiing vice president David Perry said, "People are back skiing, and they're back spending." Steamboat ski area enjoyed the strongest showing of international visitors in five years. Add to that a three-year increase of 38 percent in Front Range skiers, and Steamboat posted its best year in four seasons despite the balmy March.
Regional airports in Colorado posted increases in business during the 2003-04 ski season, supporting the resort industry's assertion that destination traffic was climbing.
The Winter Park Resort posted a record year. That's good for operator Intrawest Corp., which saw its Copper Mountain Resort suffer its first decline in five years.
"We suffered with a shortage of snowfall at Copper," said David Barry, Intrawest's chief in Colorado. "We were blown away with the success at Winter Park."
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