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Heavy snow led to a top-five Colorado ski season and a whole lot of cars through the I-70 tunnels

It wasn't quite a record season in Colorado, but 2018-19 saw double-digit jumps in interstate traffic over last season

Traffic on Interstate 70 in the Colorado high country. (Provided by the Colorado State Patrol)
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Ski resorts across the U.S. counted more than 59 million skier visits in 2018-19, which makes the season the fourth busiest since annual visitation counts began in 1978-79.

That’s according to the National Ski Areas Association, which on Tuesday released its preliminary tally. While it doesn’t appear the season will surpass the record of 60.54 million visits set in the super snowy winter of 2010-11, it is an 11 percent increase over last year.

Visitation in the Rocky Mountain Region — defined as New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Colorado — climbed 15.6%, setting a record at more than 24 million visits. Of course, it was the bountiful snow that lured the record surge of skiers and snowboarders.

Top Five Ski Seasons

The five busiest winters for American ski areas in terms of visitation:

  1. 2010-11 — 60.54 million
  2. 2007-08 — 60.50 million
  3. 2009-10 — 59.79 million
  4. 2018-19 — 59+ million *
  5. 2006-07 — 58.97 million

* Preliminary count by National Ski Areas Association.

“The strong snow year has driven increases in visitation, and many of our ski areas have reported record years in that regard,” NSAA spokeswoman Adrienne Saia Isaac said in a statement. “It will be important to continue this trend by engaging new participants in skiing and snowboarding, continuing to improve the guest experience, and mitigating the effects of climate change to ensure the health of our industry.”

Colorado’s ski industry does not report visitation at individual resorts, but it is safe to say the state’s resort industry certainly enjoyed a banner year. Whether visitation climbed beyond the 2015-16 record of 13 million, we may never know for sure. Trade group Colorado Ski Country will release visitor counts for its member resorts in June, but that won’t include stats from Vail Resorts’ ski areas Vail, Breckenridge, Keystone, Beaver Creek and Crested Butte, which traditionally report well over 4 million visits a year. Vail and Breckenridge typically each log around 1.6 million visits, making them the two busiest resorts in the country.

Vail Resorts last week told investors that traffic to its 17 North American ski areas resorts was up 6.8%. (The company also said revenue from lift-ticket and pass sales, ski school lessons, on-mountain dining and retail operations all climbed in 2018-19 compared with 2017-18.)

While skiers visits in Colorado can be difficult to accurately measure, the Colorado Department of Transportation counts every car that passes through the Eisenhower and Johnson tunnels on Interstate 70, the portal to more than 10 major ski areas in Summit, Eagle, Routt and Pitkin counties that are the engines driving the state’s ski industry.

And the number of total cars heading west and east through the tunnels from December through March added up to the second-busiest season in the tunnels’ history. The 5.35 million cars passing through the tunnels in the four-months of winter was short of the record, set in 2017-18 record with 5.61 million vehicles.

And here are a couple interesting tidbits gleaned from the daily traffic data:

• Every Friday in the first three months of 2019 saw more westbound cars on I-70 than on Saturday or Sunday, indicating a growing number of Front Range skiers who stay up high on busy ski weekends.

“Instead of doing a one-day ski trip, many make it a weekend,” said CDOT spokesman Bob Wilson. “Either just to Summit County or further.”

• The daily count on Sunday, Jan. 27 — the end of a snowy week and the middle of the three-day Martin Luther King Jr. weekend — set an all-time record with 54,720 west and eastbound cars passing through the bores.  


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