A return to normal snowfall in January and February barely buoyed Colorado's ski areas, which saw a 1.3 percent increase in visits for the two months compared to last year's record low showing.
Colorado Ski Country USA on Thursday reported the up-tick in visits as a spark fueling momentum in the final two months of the season for its 21 resorts.
With consistent snow falling, and an early Easter this year perhaps spurring longer vacations and swelling lodging numbers, ski resorts are hoping for a final surge.
But it would have to be a tsunami of skiers if Colorado resorts hope to regain 12-million-a-year visits.
Through February, Ski Country's resorts are 4.2 percent behind last year's skier visits — and last year was the worst since 1980-81 with hills posting an 11.4 percent decline to 6.16 million visits. (Vail Resorts' four Colorado hills, which are not members of Ski Country, saw a 9 percent decline to 4.85 million visits last season.)
Sporadic snow depressed skier visits at the start of the 2012-13 season, with Ski Country reporting an 11.5 percent decline from opening day to New Year's Eve. The trade group reported a 10.7 percent decline for the start of the exceptionally arid 2011-12 ski season.
That means the industry's hopes for reviving this season lies in bountiful snow through March and April. The first weeks of March have buoyed those aspirations.
Declining visits do not automatically translate to lost revenue. Despite the record decline in skier days, revenue barely fell last season, with resorts paying almost the same amount as the record 2010-11 season, according to revenue-based fees resorts paid the federal government to operate on U.S. Forest Service lands.
Colorado Ski Country chief Melanie Mills said resort revenue remains strong.
"While season-to-date numbers haven't caught up with last year yet, guests are visiting resorts and ... (those) resorts are seeing increased spending in restaurants, ski school, shops and other ancillary businesses," she said in a statement.
Increased spending is reflected in recent resort lodging reports. The Mountain Travel Research Program earlier this month reported lodging occupancy at Western U.S. ski resorts was up 14 percent in February, and reservations for the rest of the season are up more than 20 percent.
That prodded MTRP director Ralf Garrison to predict the resort lodging season finishing a little above the 2011-12 season.
"With almost 94 percent of total reservations that will be taken for the season now on the books, the season is currently up nine percent in revenues and that is expected to drop slightly in the remaining weeks of the season," Garrison said.
Jason Blevins: 303-954-1374, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/jasontblevins