Skiers flocked to the slopes in droves this year, but "weather challenges" across the country kept total skier visits about 5 percent below last season's, and more than 11 percent below the record 2010-2011 season, the National Ski Areas Association announced this week.
For the year, U.S. ski areas tallied an estimated 53.6 million skier and snowboarder visits, down about 2 million from last winter and from the five-year running average.Nationally, snowfall was 28 percent below average this season—particularly on the West Coast—and especially frigid temperatures in the Midwest and the East, along with sizeable snow storms in the Northeast, impacted the ability of skiers and snowboarders to even get to many ski areas.
Results from the critical Rocky Mountain region were well above the 5-year average. Similarly, both the Northeast Region and the Southeast Region also had seasons that surpassed their 5-year averages. While the three regions were each just slightly below last season’s skier visits, both the Rocky Mountain region (where Colorado set an all-time record for skier visits last year), and New England (which had a very strong season in 2013-14) performed well despite weather challenges.
According to the NSAA, strong season pass sales — up 6.2 percent from the previous season — show demand for skiing and snowboarding, despite a long-term flatline trend in the total skier visit number and big drops in snowboarding participation, which had been fueling industry growth for a few years.
International visits showed double-digit growth from last year despite a strong dollar, which makes it more expensive for Europeans and South Americans to ski the U.S. In 2014-15, international visits accounted for 6 percent of all skier visits to American ski areas, up from 5.6 percent last season.
Northeast region skier visits were down 0.8 percent from last year, and the Southeast region was also down slightly by 1.4 percent. Rocky Mountain region dropped by 2.1 percent. The Midwest region, which suffered from brutal cold spells, dropped 9.3 percent from last season. The Pacific Southwest was down 6.4 percent, and the Pacific Northwest fell by 36.3 percent over the previous season, declines driven largely by weather.
According to the NSAA,this season is estimated to have had the lowest snowfall in the last quarter-century for half the country (the Pacific Southwest, Pacific Northwest, and Rocky Mountain regions), and the second-lowest snowfall overall in the past quarter-century. By contrast, snowfall was slightly above average in the Northeast and Southeast regions.
Placed in context, 2014-15 skier visits nationally were up 5.1 percent from a recent low of 51 million visits in 2011-12, and down 11.5 percent from the industry’s record high of 60.5 million visits from the 2010-11 season.