New study puts Colorado ski industry’s impact at $4.8 billion

Scott Franz
A huge crowd of skiers and riders congregate at the base of the Steamboat Ski Area in 2014.
Scott Franz

— Colorado’s ski industry advocates aren’t just patting themselves on the back after seeing a new study that shows their sport’s economic impact in the state is a whopping $4.8 billion.

Instead, officials are already thinking of ways the strong data could be used to help the industry grow.

Melanie Mills, president of Colorado Ski Country USA, said the study results could help secure such things as new international flights at Denver International Airport in the winter.

“I think this is a powerful tool in that conversation, because it helps to show the … ongoing strength of the folks who fill up the backs of these planes in the wintertime,” Mills said.

The first comprehensive study of the state’s ski industry in more than a decade is chock full of data about the industry’s impact.

The industry supports 46,113 year-round equivalent jobs, produced 12.63 million skier visits last season and landed 588,000 arrivals at Denver International Airport.

The airport arrivals accounted for 8 percent of all non-connecting flights at DIA, according to the study.

RRC Associates estimated skiing generates $1.08 billion in labor income.

The study utilized a number of sources, including a skier expenditure survey handed out at 22 of the state’s 25 ski resorts last season.

Overall, the study estimated skiers and riders spent an estimated $3.08 billion in Colorado last year.

The numbers showed strong improvement from previous studies.

“We’re really pleased with those numbers,” Mills said.

Asked if the report showed any challenges ahead, Mills said ski advocates are focused on an expected demographic shift in the industry.

“In another decade, baby boomers will have exited the sport,” Mills said. “We need to stay attuned to and interested in the industry evolving to keep up with how it is evolving.”

The report also shows some new opportunities for the industry.

Mills said there is a sense that ski areas have lots of potential to grow their summer businesses.

Summer visitor spending in the state’s seven top ski resort counties is estimated to have totaled more than $600 million in 2013.

Other highlights from the study included:


Colorado ski areas invested $92 million in capital improvements last ski season. Improvements included the expansion of night skiing in Steamboat and the addition of the Four Points Lodge.

Skiing vs. snowboarding

The study found about three quarters of visitors to Colorado’s slopes use downhill skis, while about one fourth use snowboards. About 2 percent use telemark skis, while another 1 percent used other equipment.

Size of the industry

Colorado’s major ski resorts offer 324 chairlifts, 2,486 trails and 66.7 square miles of skiable area.

About 9.3 square miles of this is covered by snowmaking. The ski areas have an aggregate vertical drop of 12.1 miles and sport more than 100 restaraunts.

Still No. 1

The study boasts that Colorado remains the dominant state in the U.S. For skiing and captures 22.4 percent of all U.S. Resort skier visits.

Last season, Colorado’s level of skier visits was followed by California (7.9 percent), Vermont (7.7 percent) and Utah (7.4 percent)

Record visits

According to the study, Colorado saw a record number of skier visits last year. The 2013-2014 season was the fifth time the state has exceeded 12 million skier visits and the first time since the Great Recession.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10

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