Nathan Bilow  /  AP file
Pat Wild rides his snowboard in the deep powder at Crested Butte Mountain Resort in Crested Butte, Colo. earlier this year. Despite a late start to the ski season the the Eastern U.S. and an incredibly mild winter in the Northwest, ski industry officials are expecting a decent year that compares with recent ski seasons.
updated 3/24/2005 6:48:44 PM ET 2005-03-24T23:48:44

Seung Hwang had been looking forward all season to snowboarding.

But when Hwang and his college buddies arrived at Stevens Pass near here after driving all the way from Seattle, they found no snow. The lift — for the busy the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend in January — was closed.

“It wasn't very cool,” said Hwang, who attends the University of Washington.

Ski industry officials expect this year to approach the nearly 57 million skier-visits recorded last season. But a slow start in the East and a mild winter in the Northwest could prevent the nation's resorts from setting a record, they say.

“This won't be a record year in the industry, mostly because of the off year in the Pacific Northwest,” said Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association. “But it will be consistent with what we've seen the last several years.”

Pacific Northwest Ski Areas Association chief Scott Kaden said he expects visits to be significantly down from the usual 4.5 million a season.

Resorts in Idaho, Oregon and Alaska are up and running, but many in Washington state are missing out on spring break traffic because of a warm, dry winter. Few of the resorts are equipped for snowmaking.

Northeast resorts, on the other hand, are finally enjoying a snowy spring after a sluggish fall and winter.

After an average Christmas season and sporadic snow through January, some Vermont ski areas have seen 9 feet of snow since Feb. 1, Vermont Ski Areas Association President David Dillon said.

Park City, Utah-based American Skiing Co., which operates five of its seven ski resorts in the Northeast, has seen skier visits drop about 3 percent through the first few months due to a warm, dry early season and high winds over the Christmas holiday, the company said. However, the company reported a 10.6 percent increase in revenues for February, and hotel bookings were up about 4 percent amid plentiful snow.

In the West, Arizona and New Mexico are having one of their best winters in years, Berry said.

Vail Resorts CEO Adam Aron said the company's Heavenly Mountain Resort in California and Beaver Creek in Colorado were on track for record skier visits.

Colorado resorts have seen more than 11 million skier visits each season and started 2004-2005 strong with an 8 percent jump in visits through December. Through February, the trade group Colorado Ski Country USA's season-to-date figures put it at about 2.3 percent above last season's numbers.

Cheering the loudest may be Utah resorts, particularly Snowbird, which expects to top last year's record for skier visits by 15 percent to 18 percent, spokesman Dave Fields said.

“It would take a shocking turn of events for us not to have an all-time record at Snowbird,” Fields said.

A discount pass that's good for the Salt Lake County resorts Snowbird, Alta, Brighton and Solitude has had sales of 66,000 — up 66 percent from last season so far, according to the Salt Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau. The pass is aimed at out-of-state visitors, who are likely to splurge on dining and lodging during ski vacations.

Ski Utah was predicting to beat the typical 3.3 million skier visits it records each year by at least 5 percent before the season began. Resorts should meet that target easily, Rafferty said.

Back in Washington state, Hwang said he wasn't sure about his snowboarding plans after this season.

“It was the worst I've ever encountered,” Hwang said of this season. “Hopefully it can only get better from here.”

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