Colorado resorts report 2 percent drop in visitors

Ski season » Sluggish start continues to impact industry leader.
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Numbers out of Colorado suggest a tepid season for that state's ski industry.

Colorado Ski Country USA said last week that visits to its 22 member resorts are down 2 percent for the season, consistent with the 1.6 percent decline reported by Vail, Inc. in a quarterly financial report.

Vail's four Colorado resorts -- Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone -- are not part of Colorado Ski Country USA, which is that state's version of Ski Utah.

The numbers are important for gaining a quantitative sense of how the season is going, even in Utah.

Colorado routinely attracts three times as many skiers and boarders as Utah (12 million vs. 4 million in 2008-09). While Ski Utah and its 13 member resorts characterized this season in optimistic terms last week, saying visitorship and bookings are picking up after a sluggish start, no firm figures were provided.

But unlike Utah's privately held resorts, which do not disclose their individual visitor numbers or financial information, publicly traded Vail is required to detail its performance every three months.

The report released Wednesday showed that the four Colorado resorts have attracted 2.38 million visitors through March 7, down from 2.42 million at a similar juncture last year. It described a season that started slowly because of late-arriving snow but picked up after the holidays -- for the most part.

"Our lodging bookings ... have improved considerably from down 13 percent in room nights in early December 2009 to down 6 percent as of Feb. 28," said Vail Chief Executive Rob Katz.

An exception to that improvement is Keystone ski resort's lodging properties, "which have been hardest hit in the current economic environment," Katz said. Excluding Keystone's troubles, he added, Vail Inc.'s bookings are up 1 percent compared to the previous winter.

Those overall results also include the company's Heavenly resort in California. Abundant snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains has boosted its skier-day totals by almost 12 percent, contributing markedly to two other bits of positive news in Vail's report: Ski school and retail/rental revenues are up 3.8 percent and 5.5 percent, respectively, from the 2008-09 season.

Ski historians

The International Ski History Association is celebrating Ski Heritage Week through Saturday with evening dinners and meetings after days of skiing at The Canyons, Park City Mountain Resort, Deer Valley and Alta. Organizers of the weeklong meeting include members of the Alf Engen Ski Museum Foundation and the University of Utah Ski Archives.