By Emily Stifler Explorebigsky.com Managing Editor
TETON VILLAGE, Wyo. – Jackson Hole Mountain Resort hit 502,222 skier visits this winter, the highest in the resort’s history and up 5 percent over last season’s 479,000.
This is the first time JHMR has reached 500,000 skier visits; only 17 to 20 resorts hit that mark annually, according to an annual study from the National Ski Area Association.
The previous record of 482,000 visits was set in 2008, a year with 605 inches of snow, versus the 385 that fell in 2012/2013. The resort had record visitation in December, February and March this year.
Without record snowfall, Chip Carey, JHMR Director of Marketing, credited increased cooperation in the Jackson business community for the success.
“A lot of things play into it,” Carey said. “We are working much [more closely] with the state. There are new lodging tax dollars being spent through the Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board, increased spending by Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, and much higher cooperation with the key entities in town – Snow King, Grand Targhee [Resort], the Chamber of Commerce, JH Air, Central Reservations and the business community. [We’re] working together, as opposed to independently, which is what was happening in the past.”
“Put all that together in a hat and shake it up, and we come out much stronger than trying to work independently,” Carey said.
Jeff Golightly, Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce CEO/President, called JHMR “one of the key assets to the community of Jackson.”
“We’re confident that collaborative marketing efforts, led in large part by the Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Joint Powers Board, have made an impact on drawing business in the winter,” Golightly wrote in an email. “Great snow and improved intermediate terrain [at the resort] also caught the attention of winter travelers.”
A new focus on “bluing the mountain” has drawn a new skier population to the resort, Carey said. “If you have followed any of our advertising, you know Jackson’s brand is very ‘extreme mountain’, tough guy. We’ve really been working [to] appeal to more intermediate skiers over the past three years.”
That effort was capped last year by a nearly $6 million improvement to the Casper area, which included installation of a new high-speed detachable lift voted “Best Thing to Happen to Jackson Hole in 2012” by locals in the JH Weekly, and re-working of trails resulting in “Best Ski Run” in the same contest.
The Kemmerers, owners of JHMR, have invested an average of $8 million per year into improvements to the resort since purchasing it in 1992. A notable investment was the new, $31 million tram installed in 2008; another significant portion has been spent on improved grooming and snowmaking.
And it showed: Guests gave snow conditions this year a 7.7 on a scale of 10 this year – a number that hasn’t been as high since 2007- 2008, which had nearly twice as much snow. “To achieve a record in a year like this is quite an accomplishment,” said JHMR President Jerry Blann.
JH Air, a nonprofit that works to increase air service to the community, added two non-stop flights from Newark, N.J. and San Francisco, Calif., and re-instated non-stops from Minneapolis this season.
Starting this summer, the ski resort is cutting new trails above the Après Vous area in anticipation of a new high-speed lift accessing the Crags area on the north end of the resort, which will have a mix of intermediate and expert terrain there. “It’ll be awesome,” Carey said.
JHMR will open the tram for the summer season on May 25, a new mountain bike park accessed by the Teewinot Chairlift on June 15, the Bridger Gondola and Couloir Restaurant on June 18, and the Deck atop the Bridger Gondola on June 23.