Record Year on Tap for U.S. Ski Resorts
DENVER – American ski resorts are primed for their best season in years, helped by a weak U.S. dollar, warm winter in Europe and a bonanza of snow in the West.
"All in all, if things layer together nicely, we could see a record year," said Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association (search) in suburban Lakewood.
The Sierra Nevada (search) mountains on the California-Nevada line have seemingly been buried in snow for the past two weeks, and resorts in Colorado and Utah recently had 5 feet of snow.
The U.S. ski industry is coming off a year in which it reported 56.8 million skier-days, a dip from a record 57.6 million the year before. A skier-day is one person buying and using a lift ticket for at least half a day.
Most resorts do not release skier numbers until later in the year, but the heavy snow — and TV coverage of the endless storms — may already be bringing out more people.
"People in the major markets in the East or Texas or Florida see all this snow and say if I am going to go, this may be the year," said Anna Olson, a spokeswoman for the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (search) in Wyoming.
The snow guarantees a strong base for the rest of the year, said Katja Dahl, spokeswoman for Squaw Valley in California. The area had a 185-inch base this week — three times what most resorts would be happy with.
In Colorado and Utah, the heaviest snow fell after the Christmas holiday skiers were gone, drawing locals to the mountains in what can traditionally be a slower time.
"It is unbelievable to get all this snow after the tourists are gone," said Pat Wild, a snowboarder in Colorado's Crested Butte. "I took a couple of runs this morning. It was like water skiing on a glass lake."
The industry also has benefited from European visitors.
"This year everyone is coming to America because the dollar is weak," said Cameron Wegemund, a Qantas Airline pilot from Byron Bay, Australia, who is spending five weeks at Crested Butte. In addition, a large swath of Europe is snowless.
Not all the news is good: Resorts in the Northern Rockies aren't faring as well and the season has been mixed so far in New England.
At Red Lodge, Mont., the resort is still making snow after getting less than a foot over the past week. General manager Rob Ringer said smaller amounts are easier to handle but he wouldn't mind a good storm.
"We'd be set for the season," he said.
Eastern resorts are on track with last year, not a record but strong nevertheless, Berry said. Officials at some resorts are hoping that warmer-than-usual temperatures won't keep skiers and snowboarders at home during the upcoming Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.
"You take whatever the weather gives you and try to make the next day better," said Amy Bassett, marketing director for the New Hampshire Division of Parks and Recreation, which manages Cannon Mountain in Franconia, N.H.