SAM Magazine—Lakewood, Colo., June 17, 2020—Skier visits in the U.S. totaled 51.1 million in the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season, according to the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA). That represents a 13.9 percent decline from 2018-19, which was the fourth-best season on record. NSAA projected that 2019-20 would have topped the previous year by a small number if the pandemic had not shut down most resorts in mid-March.
One measure of the COVID-19 impact: the average U.S. ski area was only open for 99 days this past season, down from 121 days in the 2018-19 season.
The shutdown hit larger and Western resorts the hardest, though few escaped the pandemic entirely—93 percent of resorts said they closed earlier than scheduled. Resorts in the Midwest fared relatively well, down just 1.6 percent in visits from the previous year. Resorts in New England were off by 8 percent, in the Southeast, by 10 percent. Rocky Mountain resorts were down more than 17 percent, and those in the Pacific Northwest saw declines of more than 21 percent.
By size, as measured by lift capacity, the smallest areas saw visits rise 1.7 percent. Medium-size resort were off by 9 percent, large areas by 13.2 percent, and the "extra large" resorts by 19.2 percent.
Still, this past winter offered reason to be optimistic about the long-term future of skiing and riding. “To have two years in a row potentially rank in the top five seasons ever shows the strength of the industry,” said Kelly Pawlak, NSAA president and CEO, referring to the 2018-19 season and the truncated 2019-20 season.
“That being said, it is astounding how quickly this season went from promising to a complete disappointment,” she added.
NSAA's 2019-20 skier visit number release was delayed this year to allow time for ski area employees to return to work and compile the data. In a second, related change, NSAA has combined two of its flagship reports, the Kottke End-of-Season Survey and the Demographic Study, to present a more comprehensive overview of the industry's health.
The full Kottke/Demographic report will be released to NSAA members in mid-July. A preliminary report, and a Zoom webinar about it, are available in the members section at nsaa.org.