According to the recently-released final 2002/03 Kottke End-of-Season Survey, U.S. ski areas tallied a record 57.6 million skier/snowboarder visits last season. The results post a 0.45% increase over the previous 57.3 million-visit record set in the 2000/01 season, and a 11.3% increase over the long-term national average.

“In years past, skier visits hovered around 46 million in a poor season to 54 million in a good one,” said NSAA President Michael Berry. “Last season's numbers, which follow two other very strong seasons, re-emphasize that the industry is becoming more resilient and successfully attracting beginners, families and important youth markets with creative new programs.”

In terms of projected numbers, all five regions reported a rise in visits except the Pacific West. Visitor numbers were up in the Southeast (16.8 percent), the Midwest (16.5 percent), the Northeast (14.8 percent) and the Rocky Mountain (3.3 percent). With scant snowfall much of the season, the Pacific West reported a 10 percent decrease in visitors.

A skier/snowboarder visit is defined as one person visiting a ski area for all or part of a day or night, and includes full- and half-day, night, complimentary, adult, child, season and other types of tickets.

Other Kottke highlights include:

Snowfall: Snowfall was up nationally 3 percent from the 2001/02 season. Most regions witnessed significantly improved early-season snowfall. Gains included the Southeast (up 237 percent), Northeast (up 52 percent) and Rocky Mountain (up 19 percent). The Midwest saw a 3 percent decrease in snowfall, while the Pacific West was down 19 percent. Consistent cold temperatures in many regions enabled increased snowmaking capability and furthered ability to maintain snowpack. Snowfall led to high early- and late-season visitation.

Snowboarding: Snowboard participation continued its ascent, with a 5.1 percent rate of growth over 2001/02. Snowboarding represented 29.5 percent of total skier visits compared to 28.1 percent in 2001/02. The Pacific West remains the hotbed of snowboard participation, with 44.2 percent of resort visitors on boards. This is followed by the Midwest (33.4 percent), Southeast (31 percent), Northeast (25.9 percent) and Rockies (22.4 percent). All five regions have experienced growth in snowboard participation over the past four seasons, and all except the Northeast noted increases specifically in 2002/03.

Terrain Features: Eighty-two percent of responding resorts have terrain park(s), 43 percent have halfpipe(s), 21 percent have superpipe(s), and 14 percent have other special terrain features.

Lessons: Overall, lesson participation was down 0.3 percent in 2002/03, with notable exceptions. The Southeast witnessed a 20 percent rise in lessons, while the Northeast was up 4.5 percent and the Rockies up 1.7 percent. Alpine lessons decreased by 0.9 percent but still accounted for 75 percent of total lessons. Snowboarding lessons increased by 1.7 percent and accounted for 25 percent of total lessons. By ability level, Level 1 lessons were down 3 percent while Levels 2+ were up 2 percent. Kids' lessons increased 2.9 percent (44.6 percent), while adult lessons declined 2.7 percent (55.4 percent). Snowboard lessons increased in all regions, except the Pacific West.

Skiable Acreage and Snowmaking: Average total skiable acreage has been increasing, growing by 2.3 percent over the 1999/00-2002/03 period. The Northeast (4.1 percent) and Rocky Mountains (3.5 percent) have had the greatest increases in average acreage. Average total snowmaking has increased 4.1 percent over the 1999/00-2002/03 period, with the largest increase occurring in 2002/03. Growth in snowmaking acreage has occurred in every region and resort size category. Resorts in the Northeast have the most average snowmaking acreage (227 acres), followed by the Rocky Mountains (216 acres), Southeast (113 acres), Pacific West (96 acres) and Midwest (81 acres).