USA Ski Areas Report Strong Season Despite Covid

Ski resorts in the USA had their fifth best season on record in 2020-21, according to the latest figures produced by the National Ski Areas Association. Some areas had their best season ever. UPDATED

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Skier visits amounted to 59 million, with record numbers in the Pacific Northwest region and the second best numbers in the Rocky Mountain region.

A visit is counted as each day a skier or snowboarder hits the slopes.

The NSAA has been surveying visits since the 1978-79 season.

“What a year it has been,” said Kelly Pawlak, NSAA President and CEO.

“From utter uncertainty to a top 10 season in terms of participation – it shows the wide spectrum that our industry bridged this year.

“We are proud of the collaborative adoption of COVID-19 best practices that all ski areas implemented and diligently followed from opening to closing day.

“Americans yearned for safe outdoor recreation, and ski areas of the country delivered.

“We are very appreciative of the support and cooperation of our customers and the tenacious and diligent work of our staff, the combination of which resulted in a successful season.”

Winter Park, Colorado –  Image © PlanetSKI

The study suggests US ski areas made a strong recovery from the pandemic-shortened 2019-2020 season, which is estimated to have cost the ski industry at least $2 billion in losses.

The average resort was open for 112 days this past season, up from 99 days the previous winter, with most managing to stay open for the planned duration.

The NSAA says small and medium-sized ski areas – as defined by lift capacity – performed well with most people choosing to stay close to home and increased local demand for outdoor activity.

Despite the challenges of operating with Covid-19 restrictions, 78% of ski area operators report that the season exceeded their expectations.

“People had to change their habits during the pandemic, and ski areas were no different,” Kelly Pawlak said.

“We tried new things and quickly learned that not only did they function as planned but many of these ‘work arounds’ improved the experience for our guests and staff members.  Ski area operators will use this experience to continue trying new techniques and technology.”

Park City Mountain Resort, Utah –  Image © PlanetSKI

“Park City’s 2020/21 ski season was a success, not only judging by its record ski numbers, but also because the area afforded so many off-mountain winter activities, from dogsledding and snowmobiling to sleigh rides, tubing and fat-tire biking,” said the Director of Communications for  Visit Park City, Dan Howard.

“Restaurants also were very innovative with the construction of Alpenglobes and yurts, expanding their footprints to accommodate diners in private, socially distant venues.”

Here at PlanetSKI we were fortunate enough to visit Park City in Utah in January 2020 before the pandemic took hold and we reproduce our reports at the end of this article.

“Throughout the season it became clear that skiing provided a respite from the day to day realities of the pandemic and allowed an option for guests to safely socialize outside,” said the President of Ski Utah,  Nathan Rafferty.

Utah saw a record-breaking 5,301,766 skier days.

That’s up almost 3.5% on the previous record set during the 2018-19 season.

The survey found:

  • Online booking systems reduced window ticket sales from 46% in 2019-20 to 17% in 2020-21
  • Visits from season pass holders were up from 45% in the previous winter to 51%
  • Weekday (rather than weekend/holiday) visits were responsible for 48% of all visits, up 27% on the previous season
  • There was a reduction of 30% in lessons as a result of the ban on group lessons
  • The average ski area was short of 55 employees last winter, half of whom would have normally travelled on an international work visa

It’s expected that revenues in ancillary businesses will be down as a result of the cancellation of large-scale events and limitations placed on restaurants and bars, though the full information is not yet available.

Not all resorts recognise the pictured painted in the NSAA survey.

Aspen Skiing Co’s Jeff Hanle told the Aspen Times “ it certainly wasn’t our fifth-best season ever.”

He said Aspen suffered from the fact that visitors from other parts of the USA did not travel and the almost non-existent international travel. Australians usually visit the Colorado resort ‘in droves’ in January and were unable to do so.

Aspen, Colorado – Image © PlanetSKI

Katherine Fuller, a spokeswoman for Arapahoe Basin in Colorado, told Associated Press the  season was “definitely a hard one for all of us.

“But people wanted to ski and ride, and it felt kind of at times like one of the few things you could do because it was all outside,” she said.

“We just kind of, just sort of rolled with it, and it worked out. It was far better than we expected. I think people really enjoyed themselves.”

A-Basin closed for the season on 6th June and the Chief Operating Officer has been reflecting…

And as promised here are the PlanetSKI reports from Park City in Utah when we visited in January 2021…..


Park City, Utah

Park City, Utah


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