1. Tahoe got an epic season.
After four seasons of dismal snowfall, the Lake Tahoe area finally emerged in the 2016-17 season from its discouraging drought. It’s debatable whether or not El Nino, the climate cycle that received so much preseason hype, really made the difference. Trending against the typical El Nino winning regions, Southern California still had a mediocre season and the Southwest did not reach its average snowpack.
From Tahoe down to Mammoth, however, skiers and boarders had opportunities to experience powder days once again. Squaw Valley accumulated 494 inches this past winter, stretching their season all the way through Memorial Day. (The previous season, Squaw received about half that with 223 inches overall.) Blessed also with a higher elevation, Mammoth received enough snow to be able to stay open until July 4th.
2. East stayed dry.
Unfortunately, the East suffered through a historically bad snowfall season. On the plus side, resorts in the East tend to be well-outfitted with extensive snowmaking systems.
These ski areas put forth a valiant effort—Maine’s Sunday River and Sugarloaf even cranked their snow guns back up in April. However, places that rely mostly on Mother Nature had a tough year. Mad River Glen in Vermont called it quits after only 45 days of limited operations during the season.
3. Park City became the largest ski area in the U.S.
In 2015-16, Utah’s Park City became the country’s largest single ski area after Vail Resorts purchased Park City Mountain Resort and constructed a gondola connection to the neighboring Canyons. Combined, the ski area covers more than 7,3000 skiable acres.
On a smaller scale, Vail Resorts made news again in January by buying Wilmot Mountain, a small Wisconsin ski area just north of Chicago.
Check out our list of top 10 biggest ski areas in North America.
4. Skier visit numbers boomed overall.
The 2015-16 season was a good year for the ski industry in terms of skier visits. (A skier visit can be defined as one skier or boarder visiting a ski area for all or part of one day).
Not surprisingly, given the rough snow conditions, the East was the only exception. The Ski Vermont trade association reported 3.2 million skier visits versus the record 4.67 million in 2014-15.
Colorado Ski Country USA, a trade group that includes 21 member resorts, set a record with 7.4 million visits, a five-percent increase from the previous season.
Utah ski areas also set a record with almost 4.5 million visits, a jump of 13-percent compared to the 2014-15 season.
5. Colorado I-70 toll lane made a debut.
With all those skiers in the mountains of Colorado, the new I-70 toll lane was a welcome addition. Opened for the first time this ski season, the new eastbound toll lane was created to help handle the masses heading back to Denver. The 13 miles of extra lane from Empire to Idaho Springs is only open during peak traffic times.