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Drought Causes 5 Percent Drop in Skier Visits This Past Season

Well, it wasn't the disaster of the 2011-12 season, but this past winter wasn't great for ski resorts across the U.S. During a convention this week, the National Ski Areas Association released the preliminary results of its annual skier visits survey. The report, released in full at the end of the summer, is a measure of the ski industry's overall health, and one number rises above the rest to sum up the state of a $12 billion industry: national skier visits. In the 2014-5 season, U.S. ski resorts saw 53.6 million visits. That's a 5 percent drop from the previous winter, and good for the second lowest total in the past decade. "What gives?" asks everyone with a "Ski The East" bumper sticker. In a word, drought.

While the Northeast drowned in pow until access was cut off to some resorts, the West Coast was parched. Snowfall was 28 percent below average nationally, according to NSAA. In 24 seasons of survey data, this is the lowest recorded snowfall on record for half the country, including the Pacific Northwest, the Pacific Southwest and the Rocky Mountain regions. That translated to a 36 percent cliff drop for skier visits in the Pacific Northwest. Referring to the "vagaries of Mother Nature," the president of NSAA said in a news release that guests can still have a wonderful experience because of resorts' expansions and investments in energy-efficient snowmaking. Yes, Sierra-at-Tahoe plans to fight, but have you seen those drought photos?

The strength of the Rocky Mountain region is what's keeping the numbers as rosy as they are right now. Skier visits in this region were only slightly below last season, according to NSAA, but far outpaced the five-year average. This is reinforced by skier visit numbers in Vail's last quarterly earnings statement, where the performance of Colorado resorts was nearly enough to offset Tahoe's shortfall.

Despite it all, season pass sales were up 6.2 percent from last season and international visits continued to rise.

· National Ski Areas Association [Official site]
· Visits to U.S. Ski Areas Fall 5 Percent in 2014-15 [Denver Post]
· 11 Ways Sierra-at-Tahoe Is Fighting the California Drought [Curbed Ski]
· The Whole Story Behind That Surreal California Drought Photo From the New York Times [Curbed Ski]
· Telluride Ski Resort Breaks Records, But Not the Snow Kind [Curbed Ski]
· Vail Resorts: Revenue Is Up Despite Fewer Skier Visits [Curbed Ski]