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The National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) reported record visitation at US ski areas for the 2021-22 season, a total of 61 million skier visits.
This is an increase of 3.5 per cent over last season’s national number. 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. 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.
NSAA has been tracking skier visits since the 1978-79 season; you can find historical visitation numbers here. A skier visit is recorded every time an individual uses a lift ticket or pass at a ski area. Although a handful of US ski areas are still spinning their lifts, the number is not expected to increase significantly.
NSAA divides the country into six regions. The Rocky Mountain region reported a record high number of skier visits, totaling 25.2 million visits. Other regions with increases in season-over-season skier visits were the Northeast, Midwest and Pacific Southwest. Only two regions – the Southeast and Pacific Northwest – reported decreases in skier visits compared to 2020-21.
What the number means
This record visitation signals that the US ski industry is healthy, and that the demand for outdoor recreation remains strong. 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. Strong skier numbers bode well for the long-term health of the sport, especially since participant numbers have been relatively flat over the past decade. The number of operating ski areas also jumped from 462 last season to 473 this season, another positive indicator.
Historically, changes in skier visit numbers could be correlated with snowfall; more snow generally meant more skiers. However, the average snowfall this season was 145” nationally, lower than the ten-year average of 166,” signalling once again the strong desire for people to get outside.
Capital investment by ski areas is projected to reach an all-time high, totalling $728 million for the upcoming capital season. Over the past three seasons, the average ski area has invested $16 per skier visit back into its operation, as evidenced by the installation of new lift infrastructure, terrain expansion, workforce housing, upgraded dining and other amenities.
Season passes holding strong
For the third season in a row, season passes surpassed day tickets in share of skier visits. Season pass holders made up 51.9 per cent of visits nationally, with day tickets claiming 37.3 per cent 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.
Like many industries, the ski industry struggled to attract and retain staff for the season. Approximately 81 per cent 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.