Fewer people are headed to the high country so far this ski season, as skier visits are down (less than 10 percent) from first period numbers in 2015, according to Colorado Ski Country USA.
From Oct. 21, 2015 through Dec. 31, fewer skiers and snowboarders hit the slopes at the trade association’s 22-member resorts, however numbers are up 3 percent over a five-year average, according to Colorado Ski Country USA.
Because abundant snowfall didn’t arrive until December, most resorts opened later this season, contributing to a higher number last season, said Chris Linsmayer, public affairs manager for Colorado Ski Country USA.
Specific numbers won’t be released until the end of the season.
“At the beginning of the season it was particularly warm, pushing back some opening dates after receiving less snow in November, compared to last year with many resorts opening early, before Thanksgiving,” Linsmayer said.
Arapahoe Basin opened Oct. 22, however most resorts didn’t open until late November.
“In early October we received some good snow but then it didn’t snow again for six weeks,” Linsmayer said.
Crested Butte Mountain had to shut down earlier this month because of too much precipitation; Arapahoe Basin and Monarch have turned away customers this season because of avalanche concerns.
“It wasn’t because the resorts weren’t operational,” Linsmayer said. “CDOT made the decision due to safety concerns with the roads — people getting to and from the resorts.”
Resorts have been inundated with snow since mid-December, Linsmayer said, adding the state’s snowpack is 54 percent above average, only bringing optimism for the rest of the 2016-17 season.
“Typically February and early March are our busiest times,” he said. “It’s looking to be a strong season.”
At Crested Butte Mountain, communications coordinator Zach Pickett said booking calls are up 44 percent over last year, with guests eager to visit the resort.
“The new snow has prompted many people to confirm their vacation packages and both sales and room nights are ahead of budget,” he said.
On Jan. 9 the resort had to shut down because of heavy snowfall — up to four inches per hour.
Ski patrol and mountain operation teams had difficulty moving around the mountain, even via snowmobile, Pickett said.
“But we were back up and running by 9 a.m. the next day,” he said, adding, “Since the closure was only for a few hours in the afternoon, the resort did not see a negative impact from the snow. The storm was a big one and our employees and guests appreciated our attention to safety.”
The ski train, which returned Jan. 7 after an extended period of idleness, is hauling skiers and riders from Denver’s Union Station to the base of Winter Park. Those tickets have been in high demand, according to Steve Hulbert, director of communications at Winter Park.
The eight-car train holds 550 passengers and runs twice a day on the weekends (and will also operate on Presidents’ Day). Grants from the Colorado Department of Transportation, town of Winter Park and city of Denver reestablished its operation after it closed in 2009 due to declining profits.
“Here at [Winter Park], we’ve seen weekend lodging reservations spike,” Hulbert said. “Since the train started up with a lot of people coming on Saturday, staying the weekend and heading back on Sunday.
Amtrak won’t release its numbers until next month, but a representative said the company is pleased with the thousands of tickets sold.
“Tomorrow is another one of our sold-out days,” said Marc Magliari, a spokesperson for Amtrak.
Hulbert said Winter Park has seen a lot of destination visitors book train tickets to avoid renting a car.
“The enthusiasm we’ve witnessed from people who finally have an alternative to driving I-70 has really been amazing,” he said. “The train is scheduled to run through March 26, at which time we’ll start gearing up for next year.”