Colorado ski resorts learn painful lesson in dry season

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By the numbers

Steamboat Ski Area season snowfall totals

■ Driest winters

  1. 1980-81: 133 inches
  2. 1986-87: 167 inches
  3. 1991-92: 173 inches
  4. 1982-83: 236 inches
  5. 1985-86: 244 inches

■ Deepest winters

  1. 2007-08: 489 inches
  2. 1996-97: 448 inches
  3. 1983-84: 448 inches
  4. 1995-96: 441 inches
  5. 2010-11: 433 inches

Records date back to 1979-80.

Source: Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.

— Low tide can be painful. And the 2011-12 ski season — one of the three worst in terms of snowfall in most every U.S. resort region — is spreading the sting from coast to coast.

“When the tide recedes so suddenly, you get to see the true nature and character of companies,” said Andy Wirth, CEO of California’s Squaw Valley, which saw a record 800 inches of snow in 2010-11 and barely 170 inches — a record on the opposite end — this season. “I would say this season has been humbling.”

U.S. ski resorts posted record visitation in the past few years, reaching more than 60 million nationally and more than 12 million in Colorado. Diversified resort operations — from real estate to lodging and lessons to dining — buoyed bottom lines, and aggressive snowmaking pushed resorts away from a live-or-die reliance on bountiful snow.

Then came this season, with snowfall so weak that Colorado’s snowpack is half its historical average. Skier visits were down about 7 percent before a record dry March effectively killed the season.

Read the full story at The Denver Post's website.

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