Colorado’s mountain region provides a whopping $4.8 billion annually to the state’s economy from its thriving ski industry.
That’s according to a newly released economic impact study of Colorado’s snowsports business conducted by RRC Associates, a market research firm out of Boulder specializing in tourism and mountain resorts. The research was commissioned by Colorado Ski Country USA (CSCUSA), a trade association that represents all 25 of the state’s resorts, and Vail Resorts, Inc., which owns four of them: Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Vail.
“This report confirms the importance of the ski industry to Colorado — both as an economic driver and a globally recognized symbol of our state,” said CSCUSA president and CEO Melanie Mills, in a news release. “As a large share of our guests’ spending occurs outside the ski areas, our resorts are the economic engine of many of Colorado’s renowned mountain communities.”
It’s the first time such a review has been conducted since 2002-03, according to her, and was based on surveys of 7,500 skiers at resorts around the state during the 2013-14 ski season. The report was also reviewed and certified by the Business Research Division of the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado-Boulder.
While not necessarily a direct apples-to-apples comparison — this study measures just a single ski season while the Colorado Tourism Office’s datasets look at full calendar years — that enormous $4.8 billion figure would represent roughly a quarter of the state’s overall tourism dollars, in addition to a significant chunk of its tax revenues. The new study defines economic impact as a combination of direct and indirect economic impact, capital expenditures and income generated by labor, versus strictly sales.
“It’s a big-picture number, added Mills, reached by phone, “not just a spending number. And unlike some of the other tourism numbers, we’re not adding new sites, new locations every year. It really is a testament to the ongoing dedication of the industry to remaining at the top of the game, with the ongoing investment that is put into the resorts.”
In 2013, Colorado set records for both its number of visitors, 64.6 million, and the $17.3 billion they spent during the year. Then the state topped both in 2014, recording 71.3 million guests, who parted with $18.6 billion. The percentage increase of new visitors of more than 10 percent in just one year, coming with them a 7.5-percent growth of sales across the state. Both numbers are well ahead of the national average for tourism growth. Totals for 2015 won’t be available until summer of next year, but it’s probable that the state’s four-year trend of climbing numbers of travelers and revenues will continue.
Counted among that number of annual visitors is the National Brotherhood of Skiers (NBS), an Illinois-based nonprofit that encourages African-American participation out on the slopes. Founded in 1974, NBS has 50 clubs across the county that support four regions, for an estimated total of between 7,500 and 10,000 members.
The eastern region of the nonprofit has hosted an annual ski season warm-up in Colorado the first full week of December for 16 of the past 18 years, bringing about 300 members to the area’s resorts. The other two years, they traveled to Utah.
“Colorado has the better ski resorts,” said Ray Campbell, the eastern region’s vice president. “A lot of resorts are fairly convenient from Denver: Winter Park, Vail, Keystone, Breckenridge. And a lot of members find the value in the Epic Pass offered by Vail Resorts.”
He estimated about a quarter of the members on this year’s trip to Breckenridge have the Epic season pass, and the rest cough up the money for a daily lift ticket. That’s on top of the buses the organization rents to transport the group to various resorts during the weeklong event, as well as individual lodging, dining and entertainment and flights each counts as expenses for the early-season vacation.
The new CSCUSA-Vail Resorts study also found that the mountain region’s winter activities help support approximately 46,000 year-round equivalent jobs in Colorado in various sectors, from lodging and service industry to retail and resort positions, accounting for $1.9 billion each year in state labor income. Meanwhile, Colorado reported 155,300 total jobs based on tourism in 2014, with those workers generating $5.1 million. Cross-analyzing that date, the ski industry would, more less, represent 30 percent of those positions in Colorado, but better than 37 percent of the income produced.
“We’re lucky in Colorado to have this great, great asset in our state,” said CSCUSA’s Mills. “We have steady economic growth out of this industry, even though we have the same number of resorts. That makes it different than other aspects of tourism around the state. And we all get to enjoy it.”