According to the Kottke National End of Season Preliminary Report, skier visits for the 2007/08 season were approximately 60.1 million: a 9.1 percent increase from last year's 55.1 million visits, and a 2 percent jump from the previous record of 58.9 million set in '05/06.
Big ups went out to the few snowboarders on hand as snowboard visits, led by Cali and the Pacific Northwest, rose to 31.6 percent of total visits from 30.7 percent last year. Snowboard lessons were also on the rise.
"Sixty million has been a goal for about a decade," says Nolan Rosall, President of RRC Associates, the market research group that compiles the Kottke Report. While reporting the figures on Thursday, May 29 at the National Ski Area Association Convention (NSAA) in San Francisco, Rosall went on to say that the final report, which will be released in August, could actually show a bit higher number of visits as there are still several resorts open around the country, and the preliminary report was calculated quite conservatively.
Coming off a dismal snow season in 2006/07, these stats are excellent news for the snowboard industry as a whole. SnowSports Industries America (SIA) reported record-breaking gear sales of nearly 3 billion dollars and the final Kottke report is expected to show record-breaking numbers for ski area revenues and profits.
Increases in ski area revenues are partly expected due to a rising number of visitors who purchased day tickets versus using season passes. Pass sales were actually down for the first time ever with an average drop of 5 percent at all resorts and the number of days those pass holders went increased only slightly. Paid tickets reached 59.5 percent of total visits, up from 58.9 percent last year.
Based on the statistics, RRC believes that there were over a million new individuals on US slopes that didn't come out last year – a stat that could have definitely contributed to record breaking apparel sales and hardgood rentals this year. The report also shows a strong increase in day visits versus over night stays and destination travel, which was attributed to the struggling economy.
While all regions of the country showed significant growth over the past season, the Rocky Mountains were the only region to post a record regional number of visits, a feat that area has managed for four consecutive years. This is attributed mainly to the fact that a record 9 percent of that areas' skier days came from foreign visitors. In fact, foreign skiers made up a total of 6.4 percent of all visitors in the nation, a 29 percent growth over the previous year, and, yes, another record. Speculation on the part of RRC is that this was due to the weak dollar, which brought visitors from Europe and Canada. RRC also compiles data for our northern neighbors and hinted that their resorts were going to be "very happy" when those numbers were released.
Another strong contributing factor to the slew of records was a 40 percent average increase in snowfall around the country according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Ski areas across the country reported an average of 233 inches of snow this year, with a high of 644 inches in the Pacific Northwest.
The mood in the room was very upbeat as these numbers came out, but Rosall posed some words of caution to industry members. "We're dealing with a lot of macro issues. The upside is that it's good for foreign travel, but on the other side there's a lot of negative implications…You ought to be proud, but don't spend all your money right away. We don't know how long the recession will last."
Bill Jensen, CEO of Intrawest Resorts echoed these sentiments and the uncertainty facing the industry going forward. The long time industry vet says that five years ago it was easy to predict the direction of the industry, but at this point he wouldn't even venture a guess as to what the next five years hold.
The focus from NSAA and the resorts moving forward is on fine-tuning processes, benchmarking industry leaders, converting first time visitors into core skiers and riders, and continuing to enhance the customer experience. It took the industry 29 years to go from 50 million to 60 million visits and this milestone has been looming large for a decade, but it's time to shoot for 70. "You know what they say, 60 is the new 50," says RRC Director David Belin.
Stay tuned to our website for a full posting of the preliminary report and check out our coming print issue for an in-depth analysis of all of this season's numbers.