Record snowfall lures 59m skiers to US resorts in bumper season

Lucy Aspden
Aspen is one of many resorts to see a rise in visitor numbers this winter - ©2013 Scott Markewitz Photography, Inc. All Rights Reserved

America is celebrating its fourth best winter season in history, with more than 59 million skiers visiting resorts across the country.

Remarkable snow conditions are largely to thank after the wettest winter on record in the USA meant many of the country’s ski resorts experienced their snowiest season ever.

The freak weather front, which blasted the country for almost six weeks at the start of 2019, led to a number of resorts announcing they would likely remain open until as late as July to allow skiers and snowboarders make the most of the conditions.

The 2010/11 season remains the most successful on record for visitor numbers, with 60,540,000, followed by 2007/08 with 60,500,000 and then the 2009/10 winter with 59,790,000, as reported by the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA).

The preliminary number of 59 million skier visits in 2018/19 is 11 per cent higher than last season. Skier visits are defined as the purchase of a lift pass for any number of days and include any season passes purchased.

Resorts in the Rocky Mountains, like Aspen, saw the biggest increase in visitors Credit: (c) 2013/Jeremy Swanson

NSAA announced this winter’s figures at the NSAA National Convention and Tradeshow in San Diego after conducting an annual survey of member resorts.

“Snow is our greatest asset and this year was one to remember,” NSAA President and CEO Kelly Pawlak said in a statement. “Skiers and riders were greeted with an awesome on-snow experience.”

The Rocky Mountain region, which includes resorts such as Vail, Breckenridge and Arapahoe Basin in Colorado, was the area with the biggest increase in skiers and snowboarders on the slopes, with a 15.6 per cent rise in the number of skier visits.

“Total visitation numbers were highest in the Rocky Mountain region at over 24 million, a record year for the region, followed by the North East with approximately 12.7 million,” the statement read.

Aspen in Colorado was one of the resorts in the area to benefit from the epic conditions and subsequent rise in visitors. From November to April the resort received 366 inches (9.29 metres) of snow and neighbouring Snowmass, which shares its ski area, received 329 inches (8.35 metres). Compared to previous seasons where heavy snowfall was followed by long periods of dry weather this winter saw almost continuous snow throughout the season.

Aspen is part of the IKON season lift pass, which enables holders to ski at more than 30 destinations around the world. The multi-resort pass is an increasingly popular business model, despite the pressures it can put on resorts to deal with an influx of new visitors. Recently a new pass, which covers over 100 lesser-known European resorts, was revealed ahead of next winter.

Arapahoe Basin is one of the many resorts able to extend their season Credit: Camara Photography, LLC/Dave Camara

“Up through the end of February, we had the perfect timing and quantities to be skiing freshies every week,” Katie Ertl, senior vice president of mountain operations at Aspen Skiing Company, told the Aspen Times. “Then the 65 inches in early March — wow, that brought huge smiles and tired backs. We were all thrilled to have it snow like we remembered it could.”

In California and Nevada, resorts saw 7.3 millions visits, 17 per cent up on last year, and 11 per cent above the 10-year average. The record-breaking snowfall has meant some resorts in the Tahoe region are able to stay open until July, meaning final figures are yet to be confirmed.

Squaw Valley is staying open on weekends until July 7, conditions permitting. Mammoth Mountain nosw plans to stay open until July 7 following 7 inches (18cm) of snowfall earlier this week, bringing the total snowfall this season to 705 inches (17.9 metres) at the resort's summit.

Mammoth Mountain saw its snowiest February ever

Snowfall in California in the month of February was 213 per cent above the average. In Squaw Valley more than 315 inches (8 metres) of snow fell in February alone. The previous record was set in January 2017 when 282 inches (7.1 metres) fell. Mammoth also saw its snowiest February ever recorded.

These conditions and visitors numbers are a stark contrast to those of last winter, which saw 53.27 million visits in all US resorts and snow droughts across the country.