Excitement runs high as we close in on ski season in Colorado.

By Dan England

 

Fresh off 15 years in a Texas prison of flat, boring terrain with hot winters and nary a snowflake in sight, it took Jay Taylor less than a month into his return to Colorado before he bought new skis, mulled over what season pass to buy and pitched his daughter and her family on the wonders of the slopes.

Taylor, 55, wasn’t actually in prison, but at times it felt that way given the fact that he spent his first 30 years on the slopes and the beaches in California, surfing and skiing, and it was hard to know which he loved more (even as the beach had girls in bikinis, a deal-breaker for most teenage boys). Texas isn’t exactly known for its mountains, its ski slopes or, truth be told, any kind of hill at all, let alone one covered in snow.

“I wasn’t into organized sports, so that’s what I did,” Taylor says of his California childhood. “I’m ready to get back into skiing. I’m really ready.”

After last season, the best in recent memory, many skiers, even those who didn’t have to spend 15 years in Texas, share Taylor’s excitement about this season. That includes operators of both small and large ski resorts all over the state and parts of Wyoming.

Loveland Ski Area, for instance, enjoyed its best season ever, says John Sellers, director of operations for ticket sales. Christy’s Sports had a fantastic season as well.

“I think we felt like we were getting back to what we always remember about Colorado,” says Dennis Meeker, director of
marketing for Christy’s, a ski and snowboard chain known for its rental program as well as its retail and equipment offerings. “We’ve had some weak snow seasons, but last year really was like the way it seems it always used to be.”

That’s carried over to parents introducing their kids to skiing and snowboarding as well.

“It’s been really tremendous to see, over the last few years, people start to travel again and get their kids up the mountains,” says Adrienne Saia, director of marketing and communications for the National Ski Areas Association. “There’s a real re-engagement with the outdoors.”

The snow, of course, was the main driver, Saia says. Snow makes her job a lot easier. It makes anyone’s job who works in the ski industry a lot easier: Historically, sales of passes, equipment and lodging go up the year after a booming winter.

Hesperus Ski Area

Loveland | Photo by Dustin Schaefer.

“It’s been really tremendous to see, over the last few years, people start to travel again and get their kids up the mountains.”

“We are all marketing geniuses in a good snow year,” Saia quips.

And last year was, as all skiers and snowboarders say, epic. Snow piled on the slopes like the syrup on a stack of pancakes.

There are other signs that this will be a good year for the industry even if the snow isn’t great. Christy’s, for instance, had a great Powder Days event, one of its best in the 11-year history of the sale.

“We’ve used it to gauge what the consumer thinks about this ski season,” Meeker says. “By all accounts, they all think it’s going to be another great year.”

The good news is the snowfall probably wasn’t as big as people remember, says Joel Gratz, chief meteorologist and founder of Open Snow, a Web-based service that provides up-to-the-minute snow reports to skiers and resorts, even if late spring storms made the rivers plump late into summer and wilder than many rafters were used to. But, according to Gratz, last year did check all three boxes of what can make for a historically great season.

“It started early and strong,” Gratz explains. “It ended late and strong. And it was consistent. There weren’t long periods of dry weather in between. Last year was definitely good, but it wasn’t blowing records off the charts. But it had that trifecta. That’s why it felt so good. It sparked a LOT of happiness.”

No, Gratz doesn’t know If this season will be as good. Hey, this is Colorado, where the weather changes every afternoon. You really think Gratz can forecast an entire winter three months before it starts? Even 10-day forecasts are really educated guesses.

“I have no clue, and neither does anyone else,” he says. “They will tell you they do, but they don’t. There’s no way to know. I do know it won’t get much better than last year.”

Powderhorn Resort

Even if the snow really determines whether a ski season is good, great or, dude, EPIC, there are other reasons why resorts continue to attract visitors. Resorts are investing millions into building faster and more comfortable ski lifts as well as little touches that they hope will set them apart in a fiercely competitive market.

“When you look at the industry, the number-one trend is the amount of investment the ski areas are making, and it’s not just the larger ones,” said Chris Linsmayer, public affairs manager for Colorado Ski Country USA.

Some examples include a new gondola at Winter Park, two new lifts at Copper Mountain and terrain expansion and a new lift at Ski Cooper. Since 2018, resorts of all sizes have added a total of 11 new chairlifts and 10 new dining options, in addition to more lodging and programs.

“Guests these days expect a high-speed chairlift, and they don’t want cafeteria food anymore,” he says. “Guests demand more amenities, and the resorts are working hard to provide them.”

Those improvements include little touches such as an improved rental shop at Eldora, new bathrooms in the main lodge at Arapahoe Basin and season-long locker rentals at Wolf Creek, many “unsexy” things, as Linsmayer says, that nonetheless improve the overall experience of slope seekers.

“It’s not just the snow,” Linsmayer adds. “It’s how you serve your clients.”

Skiing and snowboarding still offer opportunities for families and friends to get together, Meeker says, and that’s tempting to anyone during Colorado’s long winters.

“They can do things together and get out there and experience the outdoors,” Meeker explains. “Resorts have programs not just for kids but for parents as well. They all have something for everyone.”

The passes offer choices as well, as the most famous deals package resorts together. “So, you have a lot of opportunities to get together with friends,” Meeker says.

After last year, this season might not be better, and at times, skiers may wish for last year’s epic conditions. But then again, all those storms didn’t just bring snow. They brought optimism.

Last year Copper, Winter Park, Arapahoe Basin, Loveland and Wolf Creek all debuted new lifts.

HIGHLIGHT’S ABOUT COLORADO’S SLOPES:

Arapahoe Basin—In addition to a new lift, A-Basin has opened 468 acres of new terrain, and offers a $20 lift ticket to ski between 4-6 p.m. until
November 22.

Ski Cooper—A new lift on the east-facing slopes and 70 acres of new, challenging terrain with five new runs.

Wolf Creek—A new run called Orion’s Beltway and the return of the D. Boyce Poma lift to celebrate its 80th birthday.
Copper Mountain—A new, three-person Three Bears chairlift that tops out at 12,421 feet and serves 273 acres of expert terrain that was previously accessible only by snowcat or hiking.

Winter Park—A new six-person Sunnyside chair lift replaces the three-person chair, cutting the former eight-minute ride time to less than four.

Steamboat Resort—A new gondola after the original was in operation for more than 30 years, increasing capacity by 40 percent, reducing ride times and making it easier to load.

Telluride—More than 40 new acres of advanced terrain off Lift 9.

Sunlight Mountain Resort—Five new runs this year, a new lift and nearly 100 acres of additional terrain when the $4 million expansion is completed.

TIPS:
• There are still deals out there, but act fast, as many season ticket sales will go away soon.

• Try to rent season package equipment by late November, as the best deals and choices of equipment will be gone by then. Retailers will also offer test packages.

• If you think you may want a pass, buy it. Even if you only go a few times, it’ll pay for itself.

• The best season passes, albeit the most expensive as well, offer packages for you to visit many resorts, but some ski resorts will offer severely reduced rates on their own passes.

• Don’t forget about Snowy Range Ski Area in Wyoming, as the resort is an hour-and-a-half from Fort Collins and offers shorter lift lines, plump snowfall and race days.

• Retailers such as King Soopers also offer great day passes for three-day deals at resorts.