Pandemic-proof: U.S. ski areas enjoy one of their busiest seasons ever

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Pandemic-proof: U.S. ski areas enjoy one of their busiest seasons ever

U.S. ski areas recently completed their fifth-best visitor season since record keeping began, even as the Covid-19 pandemic raged through the U.S. for

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U.S. ski areas recently completed their fifth-best visitor season since record keeping began, even as the Covid-19 pandemic raged through the U.S. for much of the winter.

Newly released National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) data shows 59 million snowboarders and skiers visited U.S. ski areas over the course of the season. That’s up from 51.1 million visits during the pandemic-shortened 2019-2020 season and nearly on par with 2018-19, when banner snowfall across much of the country bumped year-over-year visits by 11%.

The NSAA has been keeping records of annual visitors since 1978-79.

“What a year it has been. From utter uncertainty to a top-10 season in terms of participation — it shows the wide spectrum that our industry bridged this year,” NSAA CEO Kelly Pawlak said in a statement.

• Related: Skiing, apres-pandemic

Ski resorts achieved the strong results despite adopting capacity limitations, spacing lift lines, reducing or closing on-mountain dining and taking other steps in accordance with Covid-19 safety protocols. In some resort areas, attendance was also hampered for portions of the season by hotel closures.

The NSAA said small and midsize ski areas did especially well during the past season as skiers chose to stay closer to home.

Ski areas also benefitted from a shift toward midweek skiing in 2020-21. Weekday visitation accounted for 48% of total skiers across the U.S., up 10 percentage points from the previous season.

One disappointing result for the industry relates to diversity. Contrary to early expectations, skiing and snowboarding participants in 2020-21 were more likely to be white than a year earlier.

At ski areas, 90.1% of visits this past season were made by people who identify as white, with Asian and Pacific Islanders next at 6.6% and people of Hispanic/Latino origin making up 5.2% of visits, the NSAA data shows. Just 1.4% of visits to ski areas were made by people identifying as Black or African American. (In the survey, individuals could identify as more than one race.)

By comparison, in 2019-20 the NSAA found that 87.4% of ski areas visits were made by people who identified as white, while the share of each of Asian, Latino and Black skiers was higher than this past year.

“This data shows that there’s much work to be done in hiring diverse staff, marketing to diverse communities and demonstrating inclusion in skiing and mountain culture,” NSAA spokeswoman Adrienne Isaac said.

She did note some good demographic news, as well. The share of Gen Z skiers and boarders jumped from 34.4% in 2019-20 to 42.5% this past season.

“What’s critical for our industry is that we continue both to capture the interest of young people, and to introduce more young people to the sport,” Isaac said.

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