Skier and snowboarder visits to U.S. ski areas set a record high in the 2021-22 ski season, with 61 million trips to the slopes logged from coast to coast.
The Colorado-based National Ski Areas Association made the announcement Friday in its annual report on the state of the ski industry. The skier count for the 2021-22 season was 3.5% higher than the previous season, which recorded the fifth highest count for national ski areas.
“Skiing and snowboarding have rebounded in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, providing economic relief and thousands of jobs to communities across 37 ski states,” the report states. “Strong season pass sales and a continued desire for outdoor recreation are two of the primary contributing factors to the season’s record-breaking results.”
The National Ski Areas Association—a trade organization that represents ski area operators and industry suppliers—has been tracking skier visits since the 1978-79 season. A skier visit is recorded every time a skiing or snowboarding guest uses a lift ticket or pass at a ski area.
Although a handful of U.S. ski areas are still spinning their lifts, the number is not expected to increase significantly, the association stated.
The Rocky Mountain region reported a record-high number of skier visits, totaling 25.2 million visits, the report states.
Pete Sonntag, vice president and general manager of Sun Valley Resort—which maintains a policy of not publicly releasing its skier numbers—told the Express Tuesday that the resort had an “excellent” season.
Other regions with increases in season-over-season skier visits were the Northeast, Midwest and Pacific Southwest, the association reported. Only two regions—the Southeast and Pacific Northwest—reported decreases in skier visits compared to 2020-21.
“This record visitation signals that the U.S. ski industry is healthy, and that the demand for outdoor recreation remains strong,” the report states. “There were signs of this during the 2020-21 season as the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic led more people to seek outdoor activities.”
The strong skier numbers “bode well for the long-term health of the sport,” the report states, as the numbers of people heading to slopes have been relatively flat over the past decade. The number of operating ski areas also increased, jumping from 462 in 2020-21 to 473 this past season, the report states.
“The NSAA’s skier visit report confirms that the ski industry is alive and well,” Sonntag told the Express. “The vitality and long-term sustainability of ski resort towns is dependent on strong winter visitation, which holds true here in the Wood River Valley.”
The increase in skier visits did not correlate with an increase in snowfall. Average snowfall in the 2021-22 season was 145 inches nationally, lower than the 10-year average of 166 inches, the report states. The association attributed the increase to “the strong desire for people to get outside.”
The announcement of the record season came as capital investment by ski areas is projected to reach an all-time high, totaling $728 million for the upcoming season, the report states. Over the past three seasons, the average ski area has invested $16 per skier visit back into its operation, through the installation of new lift infrastructure, terrain expansion, workforce housing, upgraded dining and other amenities, the association reported.
Meanwhile, for the third season in a row, season passes surpassed day tickets in share of skier visits. Season-pass holders made up about 52% of visits nationally, with day tickets claiming 37.3% of visits (the balance is claimed by off-duty employees, complimentary products, etc.).
“Ski areas of all sizes, from small to large, in all regions of the country, saw an increase in number of season passes sold,” the report states.
Like in many industries, the ski industry struggled to attract and retain staff for the season, the report states. Approximately 81% of responding ski areas reported that they were not fully staffed, with an average of 75 positions left unfilled. Ski areas responded by raising wages, adding end-of-season bonuses, and investing in affordable workforce housing, the report notes.
Sun Valley’s development of employee housing has paid dividends, Sonntag said Tuesday.
“The investments we’ve made in employee housing continued to pay off for us this season, and we were fortunate to achieve full staffing in almost all departments,” he said. ￼