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DENVER – Ski areas across the United States have seen a strong rebound this winter despite public health restrictions put in place as part of the coronavirus pandemic.
Skier visits to U.S. resorts totaled 59 million for the season, the fifth best on record, according to the Colorado-based National Ski Areas Association.
“What a year this has been,” said Kelly Pawlak, president and CEO of the association. “From complete uncertainty to a top 10 season in terms of participation, it shows the broad spectrum our industry has filled this year.”
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Beach resorts across the country were forced to close in the spring of 2020, and many mountain communities were disproportionately affected by COVID-19 at the start of the pandemic.
The US ski industry lost at least $ 2 billion this winter, and skier visits are down 14% from the 2018-19 season. US ski areas recorded approximately 51.1 million visits during the shortened season. A visit is considered to be the use of a lift ticket for any part of the day.
But about seven months later, the chairlifts started spinning again and guests set a new standard in skiing and snowboarding.
They wore masks, rode ski lifts only with their groups, and stood 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart in lines – roughly the length of a typical ski. There was no catering service and no large gatherings for an après ski aperitif.
Vail Resorts, which has 34 resorts in the United States and Canada, went further by requiring reservations.
But even with the restrictions, skiers and snowboarders weren’t deterred, and 78% of ski area operators said this season had exceeded their expectations, according to a survey by the National Ski Areas Association.
“Americans longed for safe outdoor recreation, and ski areas across the country have lived up to it,” said Pawlak.
Katherine Fuller, spokesperson for the Arapahoe Basin ski area in Colorado, said the season was “definitely tough for all of us.”
“But people wanted to ski and ride, and it was sometimes like one of the few things you could do because it was all outside,” she said. “We just kind of rolled around with it, and it worked. It was much better than we expected. I think people really enjoyed themselves.
The ski area near the Continental Divide restricted the number of skiers and snowboarders allowed on the mountain each day based on terrain, number of lifts and public health orders at the time. He closed his winter season on Sunday.
The average U.S. ski area was open for 112 days last season, up from 99 days in the shortened 2019-20 season, according to the association. Most ski areas remained open for as long as they originally planned.
Meanwhile, small and medium-sized ski areas, which are defined by the capacity of ski lifts, have performed well as more and more customers have chosen to stay close to home for ski trips. Capacity restrictions, remote working opportunities and the flexibility of the school have also allowed more skiers and cyclists to hit the slopes on weekdays, alleviating some of the typical weekend congestion and holidays.
“People had to change their ways during the pandemic, and ski areas were no different,” Pawlak said. “We tried new things and quickly learned that not only did they work as expected, but that many of these ‘workarounds’ were improving the experience for our customers and staff.”
The National Ski Areas Association is a professional group for ski area owners and operators and represents over 300 alpine resorts which account for over 90% of skier and snowboarder visits nationwide. The organization has been monitoring ski area frequentation since 1978.