SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4)– The best snow is yet to come for many Colorado ski areas, but operationally? Many resorts are looking forward to next year.

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“We know how Coloradans like to ski and they like to be able to make that decision the morning of, and so having parking reservations was really difficult for everybody including Colorado skiers and we understand that,” said Dustin Lyman, President and General Manager of Copper Mountain Ski Resort.

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This week, Copper Mountain Resort announced it was removing parking reservation requirements at its free lots. Those reservations were part of COVID county capacity restrictions in place since the season began.

“Because we’ve done such a good job managing capacity and managing safety here at the resort, we feel comfortable around spring break going with no reservations for parking,” said Lyman.

For the rest of the season, as long as you can find a spot in the free and exterior lots at Copper Mountain, there’s no reservation required.

Copper is one of four ski resorts in Summit County. Once the county moved to Level Yellow, it gave ski areas the option to apply for capacity increases. Copper did.

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“We created the parking system with flexibility in mind and we were hoping this day would come when we felt comfortable going away from reservation requirements,” said Lyman. “We feel comfortable, they [Summit County] feel comfortable with how we’ve been operating, and because of that partnership, we’re ready to go.”

Copper was one of many areas to take an expected hit to revenue but said it wasn’t the hit it expected.

“You know, looking at where we are year over year, we are down and that’s difficult but when this pandemic started and when we started the ski season, some of the most dire predictions did not turn out to be true,” he said.

It was a similar story for Vail Resorts which recently posted its second-quarter earnings.

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IIn a news release, Vail Resorts CEO, Rob Katz stated in part, “Given the challenging operating environment as a result of COVID-19, we are very pleased with our results through this point in the 2020/2021 ski season across our 34 North American resorts. We have welcomed guests to each of our resorts with no major ongoing disruptions, which has been enabled by our focus on prioritizing the health and safety of our guests, employees and communities. While our results for the second quarter continued to be negatively impacted by COVID-19, total visitation across our North American destination mountain resorts and regional ski areas was only down approximately 5% compared to the same period in the prior year. The strong visitation for the quarter highlights the underlying resiliency of our business, the loyalty of our guests and the strong appeal of skiing in guests’ leisure travel plans.”

Local visitation was up for Vail Resorts and season pass sales were up too. This year, 71% of the visitation came from season pass holders, compared to 59% of visitation in the same period in the prior year.

“I think people were just excited to get out and to be able to recreate this winter. We definitely saw an increase in the demand to ski and ride,” said Sara Lococo, Senior Communications Manager for Breckenridge Ski Resort. “Additionally, our strategy is pass sales, and getting that advanced commitment ahead of the season and really offering strong value to our guests I think those things have contributed to a success full season.”

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Despite the loss, Vail also increased its capital improvement budget by $5 million and plans to pump between $115 to $120 million across resorts next season.

Locally, that means 250 new acres to ride at Beaver Creek, a lift upgrade at Keystone and a brand-new lift at Breckenridge.

“That’s going to be a huge addition to the resort and to the overall experience to take some of the pressure of the Independence Super Chair and allow people to move between Peak 6, 7 and 8 more easily without having to go to the base of Peak 7,” said Lococo.

While Lococo doesn’t know exactly what the next season will bring, like Copper, she said Vail doesn’t plan to make people reserve their ski days.

“It’s a little too early to say what things look like next season, but I can say that the new protocols in place were designed specifically for this unique season and when it comes to the reservation system, we’ve said from the beginning that we do not expect that to be something that carries on this current season,” said Lococo.

Looking towards the summer, Copper Mountain has high hopes for what’s normally a popular concert season.

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“We love having concerts and activities here at Copper, that’s what we’re known for. We’re going to ease back into it and start small and hopefully by the end of summer, we’ll have something big,” said Lyman.

Jamie Leary