Not surprisingly, skier visits in the U.S. took a big hit this past winter declining almost 14 percent from the 2019-20 season, the fourth best season ever, according to the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA). The trade association for ski areas claims that 2019-20 would have topped the previous year by a small number if the pandemic had not shut down most resorts in mid-March. Skier visits totaled 51.1 million in the recent pandemic-shortened season,
Skier visits is a measure of the number of times each skier goes skiing in a given season. Skier numbers are the total number of people that identify themselves as skiers (defined as skiers, snowboarders, telemarkers, etc).
According to published reports, one result of the COVID-19 impact was the fact that the average U.S. ski area was only open for 99 days this past season, down from 121 days in the previous season.
It also is not surprising that the premature shutdown in mid-March hit larger and Western resorts the hardest. Typically, they can stay open longer than resorts at lower altitudes and geographic locations that tend to warm up earlier in the spring such as those in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast.
Still, 93 percent of resorts said they closed earlier than scheduled. Resorts in the Midwest were down just 1.6 percent in visits from the previous year. Resorts in New England were off by 8 percent, in the Southeast, by 10 percent. Rocky Mountain resorts were down more than 17 percent, and those in the Pacific Northwest saw declines of more than 21 percent.
NSAA President Kelly Pawlak tried to put a positive spin on the outcome. “To have two years in a row potentially rank in the top five seasons ever shows the strength of the industry,” she noted. That may have been wishful thinking at best.
“That being said, it is astounding how quickly this season went from promising to a complete disappointment,” she added.
Now, resort executives are grappling on what to do for the next season especially if there is a second wave. Many are trying to learn from practices in New Zealand and Australia (now having their winter) on a host of issues.
While many point out that skiing and snowboarding are outdoor sports, the reality is that most dining facilities are indoors and can get very crowded at busy times. Covered gondolas are conducive to an enclosed environment.
Rental areas also are inside and tend to display close quarters especially on big holidays. Most beginners rent equipment which begs the question of how many newcomers will be willing to try the sports during the 2020-21 season. That remains to be seen.