Twenty-five feet of featherlight powder, 300 annual days of sunshine, and world-class skiing facilities: is it any wonder that skiers flock there in winter?
As ski season gets under way at about 500 areas across the country, Colorado resorts are prepping for an avalanche—of people, that is. America’s two most-visited ski resorts, No. 1 Vail Mountain and No. 2 Breckenridge Ski Resort, are found in the Colorado Rockies. Each averages more than 1.6 million annual visits, defined as one person visiting a resort for all or part of a given day. Nearby Keystone Resort also tops the 1 million mark.
“If you look at Colorado resorts, typically they’re the largest, they’ve been around the longest, and Colorado consistently has good-to-great snow,” says Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association. “It’s got huge brand recognition as a state.”
And that kind of competition inspires ski resorts to innovate. Tahoe’s Northstar California Resort (No. 11), for instance, has spent more than $1 billion on upgrades, including the 2011–12 season’s addition of a high-speed chairlift, a LEED-certified lodge, a 700-seat restaurant, and a Shaun White–designed 22-foot half-pipe.
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Park City Mountain Resort, UT, caters to families with its low student-to-instructor ski school ratios and to thrill-seekers with a nearly 4,000-foot alpine coaster, a two-person zipline, and a terrain park illuminated by night.
Many resorts also spend millions on snowmaking to extend the length and quality of their seasons. Vermont’s Okemo Mountain Resort, which attracts 614,000 visitors annually, has nearly 100 percent snowmaking coverage on its trails. “It guarantees a product,” Berry says.
Read on for the rankings of America’s 20 most-visited ski resorts and the reasons they keep us coming back for more each winter.
The Methodology: The National Ski Areas Association provided a list of the top 20 most-visited ski resorts, based on the 2010–11 season, but the organization would not disclose the specific visitor numbers. So we followed up with the specific resorts, and most shared their numbers. Unless otherwise noted, numbers represent a four-year average of skier visits from the 2007–08 through the 2010–11 seasons. (Data from the 2011–12 season, in which abnormally low snowfall resulted in the fewest skier visits nationwide since 1991–92, were omitted because most resorts didn’t make it available.)