Winter Park Resort sees 3.5 percent increase in visitors for 2017-18, expects game-changing next ski season | SkyHiNews.com

Winter Park Resort sees 3.5 percent increase in visitors for 2017-18, expects game-changing next ski season

The line outside the Gemini Lift filled quickly in anticipation of the opening.

Winter Park Resort is banking on visitation figures for its 2018-19 ski season to potentially far surpass previous trends.

That expectation comes as the resort announced this week a 3.5 percent increase in visitation for its 2017-18 ski season, a relatively average number for a slightly below-average season, according to Steve Hurlbert, director of resort communications. Still, it's an increase, and good for the resort.

"I think (it) is attributable to the quality of our conditions, particularly when compared to our neighbors," Hurlbert said, considering the snow took several months to finally build up for the season.

Industry leaders grew weary when Colorado ski resorts began opening in November to snow that was generally sparse. Winter Park Resort was certainly no exception, having to wait several weeks after its Nov. 15 opening to open the bulk of its terrain; its snow machines working furiously as weather conditions allowed. Opening day saw only 22 acres ready for skiers and snowboarders.

It wasn't until late January, early February that snow started to fall regularly, leading to increased visitation and the resort's distinction as having the largest base of snow compared with fellow ski resorts in the state.

The resort officially closed April 22, with its Mary Jane territory staying open until May 6. Visitation was dipping slightly heading into the final weeks of the season, but then rebounded.

"I think the extra two weeks really helped us," Hurlbert said. "The weather was good and the snow was great, which usually inspires people to hit the slopes, even in May.

"I think the slow start also ended up weirdly working in our favor because once the snow was good, people didn't want ski season to end."

While Hurlbert admitted the resort's visitation doesn't see any wild swings, though it does fluctuate season to season based on snow conditions, he said next ski season is expected to see a huge influx in visitors.

The reason? The ongoing multi-million dollar improvements at the resort, including the addition of a 10-person gondola.

"We're obviously hoping that a new gondola will greatly enhance our overall visitation and we'll be talking about a big spike when we have this conversation a year from now," Hurlbert explained.

Winter Park Resort's increase follows the statewide trend, with Colorado Ski Country USA, the not-for-profit trade association representing Colorado's 24 ski and snowboard resorts, tallying a total of 7.1 million visitors last season in the state. The 2017-18 total was reported as being just slightly ahead of the five-year average.

"These end of season numbers are impressive when looking back over the entire season," Colorado Ski Country USA President and CEO Melanie Mills said. "We faced historically low snowfall in the early part of the season and resort operations crews deserve credit for their tireless work to get slopes open and operating during an extended period of early-season conditions."