This ski season, weather forecasters have been hesitant to make any long-term snow forecasts because it's a neutral year -- no La Nina or El Nino to give them hints about where and how much precipitation we'll get.

Last week, nonprofit ski industry trade organization Colorado Ski Country USA reported that total skier visits were down 11.5 percent in the first period of the ski season compared to same period last year. The first period is defined by Colorado Ski Country USA as opening day (Oct. 17, 2012) through December 31, 2012.

The organization represents 21 Colorado resorts and defines a skier visit as a person skiing or snowboarding for any part of a day at a member resort.

Vail Resorts, which includes Colorado resorts Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone, reported that skier visits for all seven resorts (including some non-Colorado resorts) were up 2 percent from the prior year. Vail Resorts are not included in Colorado Ski Country USA data, and the company's data is from opening day through January 13, 2013.

Colorado Ski Country USA's Jennifer Rudolph explained that most Colorado resorts didn't see big snowfalls until the middle of December, which caused opening day delays at a few resorts. All resorts were open in time for the holidays, she noted.

"The ski industry is a weather-dependent business," she said. "When we didn't see the big snowfalls until the middle of December, that caused our savvy in-state skiers to delay the start of their season."


Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz said in a statement that weak numbers from opening day through mid-December offset strong holiday numbers, keeping visit growth low.

Katz described the early-season snow conditions as "very poor and highly unusual."

Based on hotel bookings for February and March, Rudolph said there is some reason for resorts to be optimistic about the remainder of the season. Hotel bookings are ahead of last year by 3.5 percent in February and 8.6 percent in March.

This year, Easter falls on March 31, as opposed to April 8 in 2012. Rudolph said the holiday's early date is "advantageous" for ski vacations.

Last year, many resorts closed early because of a dry March.

But during the 2010-2011 ski season, some resorts were able to stay open well into the summer -- Arapahoe Basin was open for the Fourth of July holiday that season. Rudolph said she hoped this season would more closely resemble that extended 2010-2011 season.

"Colorado has one of the longest ski seasons and there is a lot of skiing still ahead," Rudolph said.

--Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta.