SAN DIEGO, May 30 // — The National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) announced today preliminary numbers of skier/snowboarder days at U.S. ski resorts for the 2002/03 season, and, with an estimated 57.6 million visits, this could be a record season in terms of visitation. The estimates are based on the Kottke National End of Season Survey, prepared for NSAA by RRC Associates, a Boulder, Colo.-based research firm. Results were announced at NSAA’s National Convention and Trade Show in San Diego, Calif.

“Because there were many obstacles to overcome this year, we know the snowsports industry will be thrilled with these potential results. But it’s important to remember that these numbers are preliminary, so we’re still cautious to call this a record until all resort results are tallied later this spring,” said NSAA President Michael Berry.

A skier/snowboarder visit is defined as one person visiting a ski area for all or any part of a day or night one time. The current record for U.S. skier/snowboarder visits is 57.3 million, recorded in the 2000/01 season. An impressive third-highest 54.4 million skier/snowboarder days was recorded in the 2001/02 season, even after obstacles posed by the events of Sept. 11. The 2002/03 preliminary results further the theory that increased efforts throughout the ski resort industry to attract both beginning and established snowsports participants are working.

Preliminary numbers indicate that all regions except the Pacific West (down 12.6 percent) saw an increase in skier numbers. The Midwest experienced the biggest jump (up 18.2 percent) followed by the Southeast (up 17.0 percent), Northeast (up 16.8 percent) and finally the Rocky Mountains (up 3.2 percent).

These numbers were boosted somewhat by improved snowfall (up nationally 11 percent from 2001/02) as well as cold temperatures that allowed for increased snowmaking in some regions. The Southeast saw the greatest increase in snowfall, up 237 percent. Snowfall was down slightly in the Midwest (-4 percent) and the Pacific West (-19 percent).

Another key factor in the 2002/03 findings was the exceptional performance of small and mid-sized resorts, particularly in the Northeast and Midwest. Consumer-friendly pricing strategies, increased efforts to generate trial and conversion, and increased retention of core participants were other factors that may have led to boosted visits.

Snowboarding continued to grow as a proportion of total visits, accounting for 29.6 percent of 2002/03 visits, up from 28.2 percent in 2001/02, indicating a 5.2 percent growth. The compound annual rate of the growth of snowboarding since 1999/00 is 6.5 percent. The Pacific West again recorded the highest rate of snowboard participation (44.5 percent) followed by the Midwest (33.4 percent), Southeast (31.0 percent), Northeast (25.9 percent) and the Rocky Mountains (22.4 percent). All regions have experienced growth in snowboarding over the last four seasons.

Season pass sales continued a strong growth in all regions, and nationally sales have increased by 60 percent since 1999/00. Increases have been the greatest in the Southeast (up 84 percent since 1999/00), the Pacific West (up 80 percent), the Northeast (up 58 percent), the Rocky Mountains (up 52 percent) and the Midwest (up 39 percent).

The Kottke End of Season Survey tracks key barometers of the snowsports resort industry. Data reflected in the preliminary results reflects participation of 206 of the nation’s 488 operating ski resorts. These 206 resorts accounted for approximately 44.3 million skier visits this season. Adjusted final Kottke numbers will be available from NSAA later this year.

The National Ski Areas Association serves as the trade association for ski area owners and operators. NSAA began in 1962 and is located in Lakewood, Colo.