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Arapahoe Basin opening Wednesday
As the chairlifts begin running Wednesday at Arapahoe Basin, the first ski area in Colorado to open for the 2012-13 season, a sense of optimism has settled over the ski industry like a fresh blanket of snow.
After the driest winter in decades, skiers and snowboarders can be forgiven their selective amnesia of last year. After all, how much worse could it be?
“I think we’re optimistic. Years like last year happen, and we’ve put that behind us, and we’re going into this year just like we go into every other year,” A-Basin general manager Alan Henceroth said.
It snowed early last year, and several Colorado ski areas opened in October. But months of dry weather followed, with some areas receiving less than half their normal snowfall. With the exception of a couple of ski areas in the San Juan Mountains, skier visitation was down 8 to 10 percent in Colorado in 2011-12.
Snow operators at A-Basin resorted to moving snow around to keep runs covered, and it closed May 6, the earliest date in 30 years. The previous year, the lifts kept turning until July.
To help keep ski runs covered when the weather won’t cooperate, 700 feet of fence was built on the mountain at A-Basin to capture blowing snow, Henceroth said. Snow groomers can spread it around as needed. The ski area is opening with one run on mostly machine-made snow.
But skiers and riders are an optimistic bunch, and Henceroth said season pass sales are “going well.”
The Denver-based Mountain Travel Research Program tracks reservations at ski areas throughout the nation. As of Sept. 30, bookings were the same as a year ago, said director Ralf Garrison, though December reservations are down 10 percent.
“It would appear as if skiers have reservations about reservations,” Garrison said, and they’re waiting to book rooms. While the economy may be a factor, he attributed it to a “snow hangover.”
Some ski areas are trying to alleviate those bad feelings; Winter Park recently announced that skiers who book early-season trips and don’t like the snow conditions can change dates without penalty.
Local skiers appear to be willing to forgive and forget.
At The Ski Shop in Colorado Springs, business was down 15 percent last season, said owner Rick Uhl. But this fall has been “busier than what we anticipated.”
“I was thinking, after last year, things were going to be a lot slower. But consumer confidence is high and they’re updating equipment,” Uhl said. “They’re ready. They are sick and tired of the dry summer and they are ready for cold snow. They’re ready to go skiing.”
Early season pass sales were up at Monarch Mountain, which draws heavily from Colorado Springs and the Front Range, said marketing manager Greg Ralph. While most ski areas did little in the way of improvements this summer, Monarch completed a $2.8 million expansion of its base facilities.
“If we weren’t optimistic, we’d have to get out of this business,” said Ralph. “But another year like last year and you’ll have to put me on suicide watch.”