NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Ski resorts across the country saw a successful season this winter despite COVID-19 restrictions, but can the same be said for the ski season here in New Mexico? While some areas of the country had record-breaking attendance this ski season, the majority of the resorts in the state saw a decline.
Ski New Mexico said less snow, plus limits imposed on hotels, retail, and restaurants, deterred people from visiting. Angel Fire Ski Resort saw a 12% decline in visitors this year compared to last. “It was way better than we expected,” Angel Fire Director of Marketing Greg Ralph said.
In part, they credit the better-than-expected numbers to the fact that 95% of their visitors drive. “A lot of people that visited Angel Fire for the first time may have in the past got on an airplane in Dallas and flown right over New Mexico on their way to Breckenridge,” Ralph said. “Well this year, they got in their F-150 and drove here and visited Angel Fire or northern New Mexico and skied the areas up here for a change.”
In Taos, the decline was more steep, about 30% to 35%. “The quarantine had a lot to do with it,” CEO of Taos Ski Valley David Norden said. “And I think New Mexico was in the press about ‘hey this is one state that is managing this pandemic very conservatively,’ and I think that gets out.” However, Taos Ski Valley said that as a result of the aggressive COVID procedures, it operated throughout the season without a single case of COVID detected among staff.
Ski Santa Fe also saw 35% to 40% fewer visitors this season than they would in a similar snow year. George Brooks with Ski New Mexico said this is the case for almost every resort in the state. Local ski areas saw around 614,000 people this season, the second-lowest in the past 20 years.
Meanwhile, it was a record season for skier visits in the Pacific Northwest region. Brooks said capacity limits imposed here, made them fall behind. “We had limitations on the number of people we could take,” Brooks said. “Some ski areas sold out on busy times, so we actually turned people away. Other states did not have that restriction. I don’t know of any other ski areas that had a state-mandated restriction on their visitation.”
While it was an off-season for skiing, Angel Fire said their summer operations are already twice the volume of last year and hopes that momentum continues into the next ski season. “Outdoor recreation became the en-vogue thing to participate in during a pandemic,” Ralph said. “It seems to be continuing.”
There was one ski resort in New Mexico that actually saw above-average numbers this season, Sipapu. They credit affordability.
Ski New Mexico said the economic impact to New Mexico from this below-average season was $185 million in losses. The only worse season in the past 20 years for visitation was 2005 to 2006 due to lack of snow.