Downhill to Disneyland

The slopes are crowded, so why aren't Colorado resorts rolling in cold cash?

That is not the case with skiing; at some point, skiers begin to get in each other's way. Despite this, a strong more-is-better bias lingers among resorts. Whenever the ski industry announces an increase in the number of skiers in Colorado, it is inevitably reported as good news.

But "you can't just go on adding capacity forever," explains Eric Martin, another Forest Service winter recreation analyst. "It's not an exact number, but there comes a point in time when you experience crowding. And the utilization levels are getting high enough where the quality of the experience is something the ski areas have to be concerned about."

Recently, a national ski organization commissioned a study to measure the quality of its product. One of the questions asked first-time skiers if they'd come back for a second visit. The results were alarming. Eighty-five percent of the ski virgins said no. The reason, says one analyst, is not hard to figure.

"You spend two and a half hours driving to the mountain, and then another two hours waiting in line getting your equipment and situating the kids in ski school. It's five hours before you start skiing," he says. "People figure there are better ways to spend their time."

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