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If Not For COVID-19, The 19/20 Season Could Have Been A Top 5 Skier Visit Season


It's not a surprise to say that ski mountains took a hit due to the COVID-19 closures that ended the 2019/2020 ski and snowboard season early. However, the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) believes that if the mountains would have been able to stay open this past season it would have not only been a top-five season for skier visits but could have been in the top four.

This past Wednesday, June 17th, the NSAA released its tally on skier visit numbers for the 2019/2020 season. As expected, the numbers were down from the prior season, seeing an almost 14% drop from the 2018/2019 season. This is, of course, due to the COVID-19 closures. Ski areas across the country were able to rack up just 51.1 million skier visits for the 19/20 season. But that's not all bad news. If the season would have been able to continue, that 51.1 million visits put the industry on track to have the fourth-best season on record since the NSAA began keeping track for the 1978/1979 season.

“To have two years in a row potentially rank in the top five seasons ever shows the strength of the industry,” said Kelly Pawlak, NSAA president, and CEO, referring to the 2018/19 season and the truncated 2019/20 season. “That being said, it is astounding how quickly this season went from promising to a complete disappointment.”

Beyond skier visits, NSAA date is showing that U.S. ski areas and resorts were only open an average of 99 days this past season, down from 121 days in the 2018/2019 season. The forced closures due to the outbreak seemed to have hurt the Western regions the most, as many of the Midwest and Southeast ski hills were close to or had reached their planned closing days by the time the forced closures began. However, with the said, skier visits across the entire map were down due to the outbreak.

As for the financial side of things, the industry as a whole took a significant loss. According to the NSAA, "The spring break time period generally accounts for 20% of a ski area’s visitation and revenue and is surpassed only by the Christmas holiday period. NSAA estimates that COVID-19 cost the U.S. ski industry at least $2 billion, with estimates reaching as high as $5 billion with the 2020/21 downturn included. This figure was derived from NSAA’s historical revenue and visitation data."

As for how snowfall may have affected visitor numbers this season, the NSAA says that it is a difficult thing to track this season. Many of the ski areas and resorts across the country did not bother to track snow accumulation after the March closings. Ski hills have reported an average of 149 inches of snow this season, down from an average of 210 from the prior season.

“Imagine running a resort in the Sierras where it started to snow on the day they closed and kept on snowing, amounting to over seven feet in some areas,” said Pawlak. “The timing of the snowfall and the closures were unfortunate not only for our ski areas, but for skiers and riders across the country.” 

NSAA conducts annual surveys of its members to analyze the position of the ski industry. The 2019/20 skier visit number release was delayed this year to allow time for ski area employees to return to work and compile the data. This year, two of the NSAA’s flagship reports – the Kottke End-of-Season Survey and the Demographic Study – are being combined to allow for a more comprehensive understanding of the state of the ski industry.

Photo: Bromley Mountain, Peru, Vermont - Credit: Jared C. Benedict / CC BY-SA

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