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USA Ski Season On Course For Bumper Season Before Pandemic

It was heading for its fourth busiest winter on record before Covid-19 closed ski resorts across the country in mid-March. That’s according to figures just released.

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The National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) says the number of skier and snowboarder visits* to USA resorts in the 2019-20 season totalled 51.1 million.

That’s down almost 14% on the previous year.

But, the NSAA says, had the season continued along the same track as before the pandemic struck, it would have been one of the best years for visitors.

The 2019-20 winter was on course to be the fourth best season since NSAA began its surveys in 1978-79 and was following on from a good 2018-19.

The majority of the USA’s 470 ski areas – like those in Europe – closed prematurely in mid-March.

Resorts missed out on opening during the critical busy spring break period.

The spring break generally accounts for 20% of a ski area’s visits and revenues and is surpassed only by the Christmas holidays.

Breckenridge, Colorado

Breckenridge, Colorado, February 2020 – photo resort

“To have two years in a row potentially rank in the top five seasons ever shows the strength of the industry,” said Kelly Pawlak, NSAA president and CEO.

“That being said, it is astounding how quickly this season went from promising to a complete disappointment.”

Pawlak pointed to the industry’s resiliency in its recovery from Covid-19.

“Ski areas got to work immediately, making plans to bring back staff and guests,” she said.

“We will rebound but the transition is packing a serious punch, requiring bold thinking and adaptation to new protocols while still delivering the same excellent guest experience.”

The survey shows that the average US ski area was open for just 99 days this past season, down from 121 days in 2018/19.

Forced closures most greatly impacted the Western regions, as many Midwest and Southeast ski areas were close to or had reached their planned closing days.

However, skier visits were down across all six geographic regions of the country.

NSAA estimates that Covid-19 has cost the US ski industry at least $2 billion (£1.6bn/€1.8bn), with estimates reaching as high as $5 billion (£4bn/€4.5bn) with the 2020/21 downturn included.

This figure is taken from NSAA’s historical revenue and visitation data.

It’s not clear how snowfall could have affected the number of skiers and snowboarders this season as many ski areas did not track accumulation after they closed in March.

NSAA says the average US ski area counted 149 inches (3.8 metres) of snow this season, down from an average of 210 inches (5.3 metres) last season.

March and April are generally two of the snowiest months of the year, especially in the West.

“Imagine running a resort in the Sierras where it started to snow on the day they closed and kept on snowing, amounting to over seven feet in some areas,” said Pawlak.

“The timing of the snowfall and the closures were unfortunate not only for our ski areas, but for skiers and riders across the country.”

*A skier visit is counted every time a skiing or snowboarding guest visits a ski area or resort.

The National Ski Areas Association is a trade association representing the business interests of ski area operators, industry suppliers and affiliated members.

MAIN PHOTO: Provided by Mammoth Mountain, California

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