Amidst Unprecedented Uncertainty, Visitors Still Flocked to Colorado’s Independent Ski Areas
In March 2020, Monarch Mountain near Salida was on the cusp of something big. It had just announced its ski season would extend deep into April and record visitation numbers were well within reach. Then, on March 14, Governor Jared Polis ordered all ski areas to close in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, effectively ending the season on the eve of spring break.
“Last year when the music stopped, we were on pace for a record year by a lot,” says Dan Bender, vice president of sales and marketing for Monarch. Had the season not been cut short, Monarch likely would have surpassed 200,000 skier visits for the first time in the mountain’s history. The previous high, from the 2018-’19 season, was 193,022.
By the time lifts started spinning again this fall, Bender and the Monarch team had implemented a plan common among its peers: reservations for visitors without season passes, limited food and beverage service, and mask and social distancing requirements. If all went well, they hoped to accommodate about 184,000 skiers this season. Despite the pandemic and significantly less snowfall than average, Bender says the mountain is on pace for about 180,000—an encouraging number, all things considered.
Some small mountains, however, have still hit records despite the pandemic, including Sunlight Mountain Resort in Glenwood Springs. “We’re seeing a really strong season, and barring some last-minute surprises we’re going to see some record business,” says Troy Hawks, marketing and sales director for Sunlight. Hawks won’t say precisely how many skiers the mountain typically hosts annually—it’s fewer than 100,000—but he says in early March the mountain was up about 50 percent in season pass visits from last year and was hosting more out-of-state visitors than normal.