There were fewer people stepping into ski bindings last winter, nationwide, and the reasons weren't limited to a late-arriving snowfall.

Despite a booming economy, the ski industry suffered its second straight decline this year, and experts say even the popularity of snowboarding has dropped.

From California to New England skier and snowboarder days were down, according to figures released Monday at the annual convention of Colorado Ski Country USA, the state's ski industry trade association.

Here in Utah, skier counts were off about 5 percent from 1998-99 figures. Total numbers from Utah's 14 resorts for this past season totaled 2.97 million.

Late snow was blamed for lower counts in Utah for November and December. With the arrival of good snow entering 2000, business picked up. May resorts reported record counts in February and March.

Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association, said the growth of snowboarding, once deemed the savior of a flat industry, has slowed. Analysts fear the sport is relying too much on aging baby boomers. Not enough people 35 and under are being attracted to the slopes.

Preliminary figures collected by Nolan Rosall of RRC Associates showed there were 51.6 million skier days nationwide this season, compared with 51.9 million in 1998-99. The 1998-99 figure was down 5 percent from the previous season.

The three major regions all showed drops. The Pacific West was down 4.3 percent, the Northeast 0.6 percent and Colorado, the nation's No. 1 ski state, down 4.5 percent. Colorado suffered a similar drop during the 1998-99 season, and has lost about 1.1 million skier days in two years.

Utah broke the trend last year by recording a record season. Ski Utah figures show Utah's total was 3,144,380 skier days in 1998-99. The previous record, set in 1994-95, was 3,113,072. In 1997-98, Utah accounted for 3,101,735.

A skier day amounts to one lift ticket, purchased and used.

Many international visitors took advantage of the cheaper Canadian dollar, and for the second straight year, Whistler-Blackcomb in British Columbia, was the continent's busiest ski complex. The two resorts' skier days were up 27 percent in 1998-1999, and the numbers were higher this year. The two mountains, which still are open, have attracted 2.2 million so far this season, said David Perry, vice president of marketing.

The national decline has boosted a fledgling ski insurance industry, with a Steamboat Springs company selling so-called "weather insurance" to 18 resorts throughout the country.

But weather wasn't the only problem. Colorado as a whole totaled 218 inches of accumulated snow, compared with 189 inches the year before, and 212 inches in 1997-98, when the state recorded 11.9 million skier visits.

The Colorado decline was made more startling by the fact that several major resorts were offering the cheapest lift tickets, after inflation, in 20 years. For $200, "buddy passes" allowed unlimited skiing.

"It was accessible, affordable, enjoyable. You can do everything right and still get it wrong," said John Frew, president of Colorado Ski Country.

Frew said the Y2K scare also was a significant factor in lower skier numbers. Even resorts that had good snow lost guests to companies who required their staff to stay at home.

The good news was that resorts have expanded into more retail areas, including restaurants, and clothing stores. Retail revenues were up at several areas.