LAKEWOOD, Colo., January 14, 2002 ¿ Despite early autumn concerns about winter travel and a declining economy, ski enthusiasts returned to the slopes during the holiday season. Ski areas across the country report that they experienced strong levels of business during the Christmas and New Years period.

“Santa brought snow and good snowmaking conditions to the ski areas,” said National Ski Areas Association President Michael Berry. “Although many regions of the country lacked snow prior to the holiday, colder weather allowed for great snowmaking, and in many cases, storms blanketed the slopes with snow. Most of the nation’s nearly 500 resorts reported ‘powder’ and ‘packed powder’ conditions which couldn’t have come at a better time.

“The winter resort environment certainly offers an excellent opportunity to recreate with family and friends. I think people take comfort in the mountains and welcomed the break from their lives to enjoy the exhilaration that the sports of skiing and snowboarding provide,” added Berry.

In the California Sierra, Mother Nature cooperated with a series of major storms following Thanksgiving through mid-December. Sugar Bowl Ski Area, located atop Donner Summit Pass in Northern California, reported the resort’s highest attendance levels in the resort’s 62-year history during the month of December. “We were up almost 6 percent during the same period last season,” said Bill Hudson, marketing manager. “We experienced the best pre-holiday conditions in more than 10 years which really got people excited. Last year we didn’t have a lot of snow for the holiday so our guests were especially fired up this season to go skiing and riding.”

Mountain High Resort, located in Wrightwood, Calif., 90 minutes drive from downtown Los Angeles, reports holiday visits were up 80 percent over last year, its best on record, and new participants were at an all-time high.

Farther north, resorts also reported exceptional holiday business. Mt. Bachelor in Oregon recorded its best Christmas in seven years and Big Mountain in Montana had its best Christmas in five years.

In Utah, home of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games next month, the conditions were superb. “Resorts here were pleasantly surprised with their near-record breaking business, given the fact that this is an Olympic year and we weren’t sure what to expect,” said Nathan Rafferty, director of communications for Ski Utah. “It just goes to show what 250 inches of snow before Christmas will do for you.”

Colorado skiing during the holidays was busy, particularly with many areas reveling in fresh snow on New Years Day. According to David Perry, president of Colorado Ski Country USA, business levels over the holiday in Colorado were very encouraging and much stronger than people were predicting in early December. Winter Park Resort reported their best skier visit total ever for the month of December. The resort is up 2 percent from the previous record which was set in 1993 and is up 2.4 percent from last year’s December attendance figures.

In the Midwest, business varied depending ski areas’ locations. Generally those areas north of Chicago and Detroit had the best holiday seasons, especially those in the Upper Peninsula and western Michigan.

The New England region also reported a relatively strong holiday business, despite the high warm record temperatures during early December. Cold weather moved into the region in time for ski areas to provide necessary snowmaking. According to Julie Howell, director of marketing for the Vermont Ski Areas Association, everyone who planned to come up for the holidays kept their plans, although the snowfall wasn’t as strong as it’s been in previous years.

In Maine, nearly all the ski areas reported that “Learn to Ski and Ride” lessons were on the rise, especially for kids ages 10 to 16-year olds. “There were more kids learning to snowboard than we’ve ever seen before,” said Greg Sweetserr, executive director of Ski Maine Association.

Many ski and snowboard resorts also report that despite concerns of a national recession, guests were spending more in the cafeterias and in the ski shops compared to past years.”