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Just 2 Colorado Ski Areas Still Open After Sunday

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DENVER (AP) – At least some Colorado ski resorts got a boost this winter from decent snow and a better economy, but a few wickedly frigid days, good snow in other parts of the country, and spotty storms elsewhere in the state could keep it from being an epic season.

“Snow has been good to great in most of the state this year,” said Melanie Mills, head of the trade group Colorado Ski Country USA. “I would characterize it at this point as a good season, but we don’t know exactly what that will look like yet.”

Though most Colorado ski areas have closed for the season, Aspen Highlands, Copper Mountain, Winter Park, Vail and Breckenridge were hanging on until Sunday for Easter crowds. Copper was hosting an Easter egg hunt on closing day. Breckenridge was having a luau.

Echo Mountain outside Denver had planned to stay open until May 1, but the 5-year-old resort had its earliest closing ever on April 17. “With it being so warm in Denver, a lot of skiers decided to start playing golf and tennis instead,” owner Jerry Petitt said.

Loveland plans to close May 8; Arapahoe Basin plans to close June 5.

Colorado Ski Country isn’t releasing final skier visit numbers until after that, but it has said visits at its 22 member resorts this season were up 3.4 percent through February compared with the same period a year ago. It said subzero temperatures over New Year’s weekend and highway closures likely held visits down, while good snow around the U.S. and Europe might have kept skiers home instead of heading to Colorado. Breckenridge, Vail, Beaver Creek and Keystone don’t belong to the group and will release their season figures later.

Steamboat Ski Resort wouldn’t disclose its skier visits but said snow always helps, and this year it got a lot. The resort averages 349 inches of snow each season but got 433 inches this season, spokeswoman Loryn Kasten said.

“We had recordbreaking November snowfall. That piques people’s interest early on for the entire season,” she said. “The snow just kept falling.”

Copper Mountain is pacing just ahead of last year’s skier visits, spokesman David Roth said. Its Easter closing date is about a week later than usual, and it had at least 28 days when there was at least four inches of new snow.

Skier visits were up around 6 percent this season at Crested Butte Mountain Resort, which also got more snow than average, CEO Tim Mueller said. Breckenridge broke its season snowfall record of 504 inches this week, and it’s still snowing. Its 10-year average is 347.

Near Boulder, Eldora Mountain Resort marketing director Rob Linde said this season was on par with some of the small ski area’s best seasons. A strong early season tapered off though in March, when Front Range customers heard more about wildfires than the fresh snow falling 25 miles away in the mountains.

Even though the economy has shown signs of improvement, “Weather wasn’t on our side,” Linde said. “In our business, weather trumps everything.”

Good snow in northern Colorado might have kept some Front Range skiers from venturing to southwest Colorado this year, said Wolf Creek Ski Area Vice President Rosanne Haidorfer-Pitcher. She estimated Wolf Creek this winter had almost 192,000 skier visits, nearly 3 percent down from the previous season.

The resort’s annual average snowfall is around 465 inches. This season, it had almost 400 inches.

“With ski areas, snow definitely has a lot to do with it,” she said. “For us to have a banner year, we need to have really good snow early on,” Haidorfer-Pitcher said.

Though Echo Mountain closed early this year, Petitt said an offer of $5 Friday night skiing this spring brought triple the number of guests of a typical Friday night.

An early Easter that draws vacationing families can boost numbers even more, said Nate Fristoe of research firm RRC Associates. This year, Easter came after many resorts closed.

That doesn’t matter to Loveland and A-Basin, which have weeks to go to host more customers.

“We’re still counting,” Mills said.

- By Catherine Tsai, AP Writer

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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