Updated Feb 3, 2023 - Business

Vail Resorts seeing fewer skiers in Colorado as riders flock to rival mountains

Skiers in Vail Village at the foot of Vail Mountain. Photo: Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Skiers in Vail Village. Photo: Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

One year after epic lift lines created outrage at Vail Resorts, the company β€” and skiers β€” are experiencing less crowded mountains this season. And it's not for lack of snow.

What's happening: The Broomfield-based company's five Colorado resorts β€” including namesake Vail and Breckenridge β€” reported skier and rider visits "below expectations" through Jan. 8, per the Colorado Sun.

  • The trend also runs counter to the average 13% increase in traffic at all 37 of its North American resorts.
  • Vail Resorts, which sells the Epic Pass, pledged to cap daily lift ticket sales after last year's debacle, but the company hasn't needed to invoke the policy yet this season in Colorado.

Yes, but: The same is not true for Colorado's other premier resorts.

  • The mountains featured on the rival Ikon Pass, including Steamboat, Winter Park, Arapahoe Basin and Copper, are anecdotally seeing quickly filled parking lots and longer lift lines.
  • Of note: Their owners, Alterra and Powdr, don't report skier visit numbers like Vail, a publicly traded company. Vail disclosed a 4% decline in pass renewals this year, which was expected.

What they're saying: "I wouldn't say this season has been particularly exceptional, but our growth and popularity over the past five seasons is certainly noticeable," Copper Mountain president Dustin Lyman said.

Why it matters: Winter tourism is not only a major economic driver in Colorado, but the mountain operators are in a high-stakes competition when it comes to the pass preferences of skiers and riders who are looking for the best experience.

The big picture: Vail Resorts blamed "extreme weather" and airline cancellations, but it's evident the post-pandemic surge in visits is returning to more normal levels.

  • The need for frontage road overflow parking at Vail is down one-third or more and Breckenridge tourism officials reported 3-5% declines in bookings for two traditionally busy holidays, Christmas and Martin Luther King Jr. weekend.
  • Traffic counts through the Eisenhower Tunnel and mountain town airports are about even with last season.

πŸ’­ My thought bubble: The diminished crowds are certainly visible at Vail and Beaver Creek this season, and even a recent 12-inch powder Saturday didn't overwhelm the lifts if you knew where to go.

  • Beyond the numbers, the resorts have improved their crowd management, added high-speed lifts and opened more terrain to spread out skiers and riders.
  • Don't expect it to last. Even Vail Resorts is projecting traffic increases as the unusually cold winter fades later in the season.
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