The National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) released its preliminary skier visit numbers for the 2023/24 season, reporting 60.4 million skier visits for the latest season. NSAA reported this season, despite the harsh earlier conditions, that it ranked as the fifth-best on record. NSAA has tracked skier visits since the 1978/79 season.

“Some ski area operators described the season as a roller coaster, and I applaud those same operators for being flexible, reopening to take advantage of a late season storm or making snow in late March to squeeze in one more week,” said Kelly Pawlak, president and CEO of the NSAA. “Skiers are a hardy bunch and responded enthusiastically. The strong skier visits speak volumes to their passion for sliding on snow,” she noted in a media release.

NSAA reported that skier visit numbers are a perennial key performance indicator for the downhill snow sports industry. A skier visit is a measure of frequency recorded each time a person uses a lift ticket or pass at a ski area. The number is preliminary, as several ski areas remain open for skiing and riding. The final number is not expected to be significantly different. The NSAA will collect the updated figures when those ski areas close for winter operations and update the release once they have compiled the final numbers.

This Season In Context
Skier visits are a key performance indicator for the ski industry. Following two consecutive seasons of record visitation, the start of the 2023/24 snow sports season was met with anticipation and unseasonably warm temperatures, leading to a delayed start in many regions of the country. Despite that, U.S. ski areas tallied over 60 million visits, indicating snow sports’ resilience among renewed interest in outdoor recreation post-pandemic.

Visits By Ski Area Size
Extra-large resorts tallied the bulk of skier visits at 57 percent. However, small ski areas accounted for 59 percent of U.S. ski areas in operation, with roughly 13 percent of total skier visits. NSAA measures ski area size by vertical transportation feet per hour (VTF/h), which calculates uphill lift capacity.

Regional Impacts
NSAA divides the ski country into six regions. While performance remained strong in many areas, all six regions showed a decline in skier visits against last season’s numbers.

The Rocky Mountain region remains the most visited, reporting 26.7 million skier visits, followed by the Northeast at 12.4 million and the Pacific Southwest at 8.0 million. The Midwest was the fourth-most visited region, totaling 4.8 million visits despite reporting the largest decrease (-26.7 percent) compared to the prior season. The Pacific Northwest region reported 4.2 million visits. The Southeast reported 4.2 million and had the least change year-over-year (YoY).

Ski Areas in Operation
Additionally, the NSAA’s count of ski areas operating in the U.S. totaled 487 for the past season, an increase of seven ski areas from the prior season. Changes in this number included

  • the reopening of seven ski areas,
  • the founding of one new ski area, and
  • the loss of one ski area due to a merger.

Other fluctuations were due to cycles of closure and reopening of small ski areas; factors including inflow of capital, weather and local interest affect this cycle.

Historically, fluctuations in skier visit numbers could correlate with snowfall; snow generally means more skier visits. This season, a slightly below-average snowfall season still yielded a skier visit number that the NSAA would have considered high in an average year before the pandemic.

Average snowfall at ski areas nationally totaled 158 inches, a departure from the previous season’s 225 inches (a record snowfall year for several ski areas). The ten-year average holds at approximately 173 inches. The average length of the season was 106 days, a decrease of only seven days from the previous season, indicating the importance of snowmaking in a below-average snow year.

Capital Investment
Capital investment for the 2023/24 season totaled $754.3 million. Lift infrastructure remains a focal point for the U.S. industry, with 99 new and upgraded lifts installed at ski areas this past season. The average ski area reinvested $29.20 per skier visit into the resort. The $4-plus increase over last season’s average signals that ski areas remain focused on improving the customer experience despite reduced visitations.

The NSAA is projecting next season’s (2024/25) capital investment to reach nearly $500 million, including plans for 71 new and upgraded lifts.

Season Pass Visitation Remains Strong
Season passes remain the primary access product skiers and riders used for the fifth consecutive season. Season pass holders made up 50 percent of visits nationally, with standard day or multi-day lift tickets claiming 31 percent of visits. The balance is claimed by frequency products (showing a 3 ppt increase this season), off-duty employees, complimentary products, etc.

Image courtesy Snowmass Resort