Colorado’s ski resorts barely missed last year’s visitation record, with most counting less than 1 percent fewer visits in 2014-15 compared to 2013-14. Late spring snow helped close the gap, Colorado Ski Country on Thursday announced visitation to its 21 member resorts reached 7.1 million in 2014-15, roughly a half-percent less than last year when the state’s ski areas hit visitor records.
Vail Resorts, which owns Vail, Breckenridge, Keystone and Beaver Creek resorts, is not part of the Ski Country trade group and does not release visitation tallies for its nine individual mountain resorts. The resort company this week reported a 1.4 percent dip in visitation across its resort network. Ski Country on Thursday said Vail Resorts declined to report Colorado visits for 2014-15.
Last year the combined total from all 25 resorts set a record for visitation with 12.6 million visits. With Vail Resorts reporting a 1.4 percent decline across its three-state network of ski areas, the 2014-15 season visitation to Colorado likely fell closer to 12.5 million. The three seasons between 2005 and 2008 saw visitation to Colorado ski areas exceed 12.5 million.
In addition to the late snowfall, the drought drove many skiers from the west to Colorado. Sales tax revenues in resort communities showed record spending by visitors during the December through March span of the 2014-15 ski season. The high spending indicates vacationers were flocking to Colorado, drawn largely by the best-in-the-West snow conditions.
For the past two years, the 22 Colorado ski resorts on federal land paid record rents to the Forest Service. The highest-ever $20.6 million in rent those resorts paid in 2013-14 — which are based on revenues earned on the mountain — show guests are spending more on ski vacations and resorts are harvesting more of that spending.
Visits to Colorado ski areas were up 6.5 percent over the state’s five-year average. While the dry spell in January and February slowed counts, the early snow in December bolstered destination traffic that lasted through the season. Similarly, Utah saw its seasonal snowfall tumble to 41 percent of average despite a strong start that had the state’s 14 ski resorts reporting above-average snow depths on Jan. 1. But Utah ski areas saw 2014-15 visitation plummet 4.9 percent from the previous season to 3.9 million, its second-worst showing in the last 10 years.
Nationally, skier visits fell 5 percent below the 2013-14 tally to 53.6 million, with the West Coast snow drought pushing the 2014-15 season 3.8 percent below the five-year average of 55.7 million visits.