Foreigners flocked to Colorado slopes, boosting near-record ski season

It’s a pretty simple equation, really: Record snow equals near-record skier numbers in Colorado.

That was the big announcement Thursday at the annual Colorado Ski Country USA meeting in Crested Butte, where the trade association representing the state’s 26 ski resorts crowed about the 12,535,913 skier days during the 2007-08 season, second only to last season’s record total of 12,566,299.

A ski season that started high and dry with virtually no November snowfall, forcing some resorts to delay opening day and slowing early-season bookings, rebounded with virtually nonstop snowfall December through April. Eight resorts broke season snowfall records.

The abundant snow and weak U.S. dollar also attracted hordes of skiers from overseas. Colorado saw a 21 percent jump in international skier visits.

But the big numbers are bittersweet for the industry lobbying group, which also announced a nearly 50 percent reduction in its budget due to the recent departure of the four Vail Resorts’ ski areas, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Vail.

Ironically, Vail Resorts – the biggest ski company in the state – left the fold because it wanted Colorado Ski Country to do less marketing and more lobbying on public policy issues. Now the trade group is being forced into that move for funding reasons, cutting its domestic marketing budget, slashing staff and appointing its former head of public policy, Melanie Mills, to replace Rob Perlman as president and CEO.

Perlman is heading off into the sunset to take a marketing position at Steamboat.

is an award-winning reporter who has covered energy, environmental and political issues for years. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Denver Post. He's founder of Real Vail and Real Aspen.