DENVER — For a second straight season, skier visits to Colorado resorts finished below 12 million amid a slow rebound in leisure travel and weak midseason snow, according to preliminary numbers a trade group released Thursday.
Colorado resorts had about 11.86 million skier visits this season, up 0.8 percent from last season, Colorado Ski Country USA said. Those numbers include Vail Resorts Inc.'s four Colorado ski areas, even though the company doesn't participate in the trade group.
Though early and late season snowstorms kept lifts at some resorts running longer than expected, overall season snowfall was down 26 percent from last year and the 10-year average, said Colorado Ski Country USA President Melanie Mills.
Visits from international customers were up 6.5 percent, but visits by riders from Denver and elsewhere along Colorado's Front Range – people who could decide whether to head to the mountains based on last night's snowfall – were down from record levels last season, Mills said.
She didn't release exact numbers.
"I wouldn't say the overall leisure industry recovered this year," Mills said. "But this year, snow was a bigger factor than the economy."
Nationally, skier visits are up around 4.2 percent from last season.
Mills said preliminary figures show a 5 percent increase in the volume of children's lessons in Colorado this season.
Next season, the trade group is expanding a program that offers Colorado fifth-graders three free visits at each member resort by tacking on a free lesson, including free rental equipment. The lessons for kids in the 5th Grade Passport program would be offered in January, which is Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month and is typically quieter than the busy Christmas, Easter and spring break periods.
The new freebie is aimed at the roughly 15 to 20 percent of kids in the Passport program who are children of parents who have never skied, Mills said.
"It's in our interest, long-term, to bring new participants to the sport," Mills said.