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Skiers and snowboarders prepare to drop down the slopes of Breckenridge ski area on Dec., 26, 2022, in Breckenridge. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

This story first appeared in The Outsider, the premium outdoor newsletter by Jason Blevins.

In it, he covers the industry from the inside out, plus the fun side of being outdoors in our beautiful state.

The 2022-23 winter marked yet another banner season for Colorado’s ski resorts and mountain towns. 

Colorado Ski Country last week announced a record 14.8 million visits to the state’s 27 lift-served ski areas in 2022-23, marking an 18% increase over the five-year average for skier visits in the state. 

And net taxable sales in 18 of Colorado’s resort-anchored mountain towns reached record highs as winter price tags at hotels, restaurants and shops surged. Taxable spending in the 18 communities reached $4.4 billion from November 2022 through March 2023, up from $4.3 billion in the same span of the 2021-22 ski season. 

In an emailed statement, Colorado Ski Country boss Melanie Mills called the 2022-23 season “a significant new industry benchmark.” The nation’s ski areas last winter logged a record 64.7 million skier visits, with historic snowfall fueling hopes that the North American resort industry could be shaking off prolonged stagnation and entering an era of growth. 

Skier visits are a hazy metric for ski resort growth. Mills, in the statement, said the visitation high mark reflects “the positive economic impact that this success has for our employees, our communities, our partners and our state.”

Spending in mountain towns has been steadily increasing in recent years, with more visitors leaving more dollars in their wake. Nearly every mountain town in Colorado saw big increases in tax revenue in 2022-23, mirroring a trend that has been underway since 2019. Since the winter of 2019-20, taxable sales in the 18 mountain towns tracked by The Colorado Sun are up 47%. 

The winter saw very strong snowfall, and well-timed storms boosted traffic. More skiers are buying season passes, too, with an increasing percentage of Colorado skiers using either the Epic or Ikon pass. Resorts that are accessible under the Ikon — like Alterra Mountain Co.’s own Winter Park and Steamboat ski areas, as well as partners like Eldora and Copper Mountain — all reported extraordinarily busy seasons.

Alterra Mountain Co. is privately held and does not discuss specific visitation trends or pass sales numbers. Taxable sales in Winter Park climbed to an all-time high of $124.1 million from November 2022 through March 2023, marking an 11% increase over the previous season. Taxable sales in Steamboat Springs climbed 8% to more than $507 million in the first five months of the 2022-23 ski season. 

The visitation and spending boom is buoying resort operators. Alterra Mountain Co., like its rival Vail Resorts, has lots of cash and it is poised for expansion. Earlier this month Alterra announced it is buying the 2,900-acre Schweitzer ski area in Sandpoint, Idaho. The latest report by Moody’s Investors Services noted that Alterra Mountain was borrowing $1 billion, with $500 million due in 2028 and $500 million due in 2030. The May 2023 report noted that Alterra “delivered strong operating performance” over the past year and that the company had “very good liquidity” with $1.1 billion in cash on hand. 

Vail Resorts earlier this month reported earnings of $623.3 million for the third quarter of its fiscal year through April 2023. The company reported a 6% increase in pass sales through May for the 2023-24 ski season. The company sold 2.3 million Epic season passes and advanced-purchased day tickets for the 2022-23 ski season. Visits to Vail Resorts’ 37 ski areas across North America reached 9.2 million in February, March and April of this year, which compares with 8.7 million in the same span of the 2021-22 ski season. For the entire season, Vail Resorts reported 18.5 million visits at all its global resorts, up from 16.3 million in the 2021-22 ski season. 

Vail Resorts does not break out visits to individual ski areas or even individual states. In Colorado, the company’s Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Crested Butte, Keystone and Vail ski areas are among the busiest in the country, accounting for at least 5 million visits, according to historical numbers from when each resort released annual traffic counts.

The trade group Colorado Ski Country does not include any of the Vail Resorts ski areas, but the organization said the 14.8 million count came from “publicly available information,” in the National Ski Areas Association’s end-of-season reports, which are available to the association’s members. 

Aspen Skiing Co. reported visitation was up 7% in 2022-23 over the previous season, which ranks just below the four-resort company’s record of more than 1.5 million visits set in 2018-19. Taxable sales in Aspen reached a high of $651.3 million for the first five months of the 2022-23 ski season. In Snowmass Village, the home of Aspen Skiing Co.’s most trafficked ski hill, taxable sales hit $196.8 million for the 2022-23 ski season through March, up 19% over the 2021-22 season. 

Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman Jeff Hanle said the company’s Roaring Fork Valley ski areas saw “strong spending” from international visitors, with Australians showing up after two pandemic-impacted years and many spring visitors from Mexico and Brazil. 

“Not having a record is fantastic for us,” Hanle said. “It feels like sustainable growth. We grew a little bit with skier visits but not enough to impact the overall experience and we still have money to invest in housing and employees. That’s the ideal situation, really.”

Jason Blevins lives in Eagle with his wife, two teenage girls and a dog named Gravy. He writes The Outsider, a weekly newsletter covering the outdoors industry from the inside out. Topic expertise: Western Slope, public lands, outdoors,...