Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association, says this winter has been a good one for resorts, although the strong momentum of February has run into huge weather swings over the past month.
"At the end of January, into mid-February, I was saying the year to date has been very, very strong, with the caveat that March will tell everything, and a La Nina year can be very volatile from a weather standpoint, especially east of the Mississippi. That proved to be the case. You've had huge weather swings the last three or four weeks, with rain, snow, and warmth," Berry told OnTheSnow.
Even so, he said, "It's going to be a good year if not a great year. There's been a lot of weather. A huge snowstorm on the West Coast this weekend (March 19-20) closed two major highways for part of the weekend. When you start shaving the weekends in March, it tends to make it tougher. You have to layer a lot of positives with very few negatives, and now we've had some negatives.
"I don't think we'll maintain the same trajectory we saw a month ago. Just where we land relative to our record year, relative to last year, is the question. We'll be in the ballpark, but whether we'll be in deep center or out of the park remains to be seen," Berry said.
NSAA statistics show the best-ever year in terms of skier and rider visits was 2007-08, with 60.5 million visits. The winter of 2009-10 was second-best year ever, with 59.8 million skier and rider visits.
He said the timing of holidays can play a significant role in how a season plays out, and Easter is not going to help this year.
"One thing to keep in mind is that since Easter is in July this year - actually April 24 -- Easter will not play a major role in pulling the season out. The vast majority of ski areas in the country will be closed. In years when we see Easter at its last possible date it doesn't provide a benefit for us. Mid-April is the best," Berry said.
He said the best timing for resorts is to have Christmas and New Year's fall on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday.
"Having a Saturday or Sunday Christmas and New Year's gives us a one-week holiday, as opposed to a 10- or 14-day holiday," he said.
"It's nice to have Leap Year, too. These are the subtle things that can affect the season," Berry said.