Skiers and snowboarders took to the slopes in droves this past winter — so much so that they set a record for visits to ski resorts nationwide, according to the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA), the trade group representing ski area owners and operators across the country.
During the 2021-2022 season, ski slopes recorded 61 million total visits, which marks a 3.5 percent increase over the previous season — and the highest number recorded since the group began tracking visits in 1978. (A visit gets tallied every time someone uses a pass or lift ticket at a resort.)
This winter wasn’t a particularly snowy one, but the lack of precipitation apparently didn’t bother many outdoor enthusiasts. Usually, more snow results in more skiers, and vice versa. But this year, the average snowfall in the United States was only 145 inches, which is lower than the ten-year national average of 166 inches. Instead, it seems people just wanted to get outside.
Skier visits generally trended upward in the 1970s, ’80s,’ 90s and early 2000s, with a previous peak of 60.5 million in 2010-2011. After that, numbers dropped off and hovered in the low- to mid-50s until there was another surge — 59 million — in 2017-2018.
Visits declined again during the 2019-20 season, which was cut short by the pandemic. Most resorts closed in March 2020, even though the season typically runs through April, and sometimes as late as May and June.
But outdoor recreation boomed as the pandemic drew on, with a surge of people visiting national parks, buying bikes, going camping and pursuing other adventures in nature. The number of skier visits jumped back up in 2020-2021 and continued their upward trajectory this winter.
“Strong skier numbers bode well for the long-term health of the sport, especially since participant numbers have been relatively flat over the past decade,” the NSAA says in the statement.
But it wasn’t all good news for ski lovers this winter. Ski resorts, like many businesses, struggled to hire and retain employees, and over 80 percent told NSAA that they were not fully staffed. Though ski areas introduced pay hikes and bonuses in an attempt to staff up, they still faced complaints about closed lifts, limited terrain, long lines and other issues related to the lack of workers.
Skiing is a predominantly white, male sport, and the increase in interest comes at a time when many ski resorts are trying to diversify their clientele. But when skiers complain of overcrowding, newcomers can be left feeling unwelcome, reported the New York Times‘Alyson Krueger earlier this year.
“I don’t think a majority of skiers are racist, but if longtime skiers become frustrated because they are seeing ski areas being crowded, when you look at that crowd, who do you immediately identify as being most out of place?” Anthony Kwame Harrison, a sociologist at Virginia Tech, told the Times.
The sport’s future also faces a new hurdle: climate change. Across the country, ski seasons are getting shorter as snowfall declines, according to the Washington Post‘s Heather Balogh Rochfort. And earlier this year, for the first time ever, the Winter Olympics used snow that was almost entirely artificial. At the same time, the ski industry itself has a large carbon footprint — from the resorts ‘snow-making machines to skiers’ private planes.
But at least for now, as S.KI magazine’s Samantha Berman writes, it’s clear that the “pandemic-fueled love affair with skiing is still going strong.”