American ski resorts were on track for their fourth best season in history before coronavirus forced closures, according to data released today by the National Ski Areas Association. Spring traditionally accounts for about 20 percent of total visitation and the shortened season yielded a total of 51.1 million skier days. On the heels of 59.3 million skiers in 2018/19, 2019/20 will go down as the worst season since 2011/12 and second worst since 1991/92.
Despite visitation declining in all six NSAA regions, there is reason for optimism. “To have two years in a row potentially rank in the top five seasons ever shows the strength of the industry,” said NSAA President and CEO Kelly Pawlak, referring to the 2018/19 winter and truncated 2019/20 season. “That being said, it is astounding how quickly this season went from promising to a complete disappointment.” The impact of snowfall, traditionally a major factor in visitation, was difficult to assess this year due to many resorts ending reporting in mid-March.
The Kottke National End of Season Survey also revealed six fewer operational areas in 2019/20 with a total of 470. Each resort was open an average of only 99 days, down from 121 in the 2018/19 season. That means each resort averaged about 108,000 visits. A skier visit is defined as a skiing or snowboarding guest visiting a resort for any part of a day.
The industry group estimates COVID-19 will cost resorts at least $2 billion and as much as $5 billion depending on continued impacts during the 2020/21 season. Within weeks of closing early, many resorts opted to delay capital projects such as new lifts planned for next winter. At least nine major projects were postponed in the month of April. As of today, new lift orders are pacing almost 30 percent below last year.