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SAM Magazine--Denver, Colo., Jan. 8, 2005--In spite of up-and-down weather in the East and Midwest, massive snows in California, and a snow drought in the Northwest, holiday traffic at ski areas nationwide was on a par with, or above, last year. And despite some continuing nasty weather in the week after the holiday, most areas are optimistic for a strong 2004-05 season.

The brightest spot of all was Utah, where a few areas recorded record visits and all reported capacity crowds. Ample but not traffic-crippling snowfall was key to this success, as between three and six feet came to most areas. At Deer Valley, 50 inches of Christmas-week snow helped the resort achieve a record-breaking December. Reservations are on pace to break the resort's previous best skier-day totals, set during 2001-02. Snowbird's visits were significantly ahead of last year's, thanks to just-enough snow to keep crowds ecstatic and the roads open.

California areas were nearly drowning in snow, with up to nine feet clogging highways and reducing visibility during the holidays. The snowfall cut into holiday visits, but thanks to the region's early start, visits are still at or slightly above budget. In SoCal, crowds have been turning out in record numbers. The heavy snows have pumped up demand, and areas expect that good weather during the upcoming MLK weekend will produce large crowds.

In the Southwest, snow has fueled near-record visits. Angel Fire, M.M., reports visits up 32 percent during the holidays from a year ago, and close to its previous best year. And snow-blessed Durango Mountain Resort in southwestern Colorado reports record crowds as well.

But the good news was not confined to regions that were blessed with abundant snow. In both the Midwest and the Northeast, where many areas are below normal snowfall, areas report business equal to or better than the previous holiday period. And in some Midwest areas, heavy snows led to record attendance. "This vacation period was one of the shortest due to the fact that both Christmas and New Year's were on Saturdays," says Ski Maine executive director Greg Sweetser. "The compressed holiday week limited our mountains to five midweek days. But despite the shortened week, most of the Maine ski areas reported average to slightly above number of skiers visits for the holiday period." A similar story played out across the Northeast. At Hunter Mountain, learn-to programs were up, and ethnic populations were heavily represented. "In the Learning Center, English is minority language," says marketing vp Rob Megnin, with Eastern European and Pacific-Rim accents now common.

The Northwest has continued to lag the rest of the country. Several resorts failed to open till just before New Year's due to low snowfall, and some are still operating on limited terrain. But even here, there have been success stories. The 2004-2005 season is shaping up as one of the best in recent memory for Red Resort in south-central B.C. Red set new resort records for single-day guest visits and total number of visitors during the Christmas holiday week. \