ASPEN - Skiers and snowboarders weren't hitting the slopes much in Aspen in March - and they weren't getting hurt, either.
Aspen Ambulance saw a 40 percent drop in calls for service in March, which is usually the ambulance service's busiest month, according to director Jim Richardson.
Aspen Skiing Co. this week reported a 1.8 percent drop in skier visits for the 2011-12 season, and the warm, dry March had a lot to do with the decrease, as visits were up about 2 percent through February.
For the winter as a whole, the ambulance operation's decision to pare back the number of ambulance crews it had at the ready for the winter season was the right one, according to Richardson.
The Aspen Ambulance District had two ambulances staffed and ready to roll for the 2011-12 ski season, a reduction from three ambulances the prior winter. The cutback was prompted by about a 50 percent drop in ski-related calls for service during the 2010-11 ski season. This past winter's calls were even with 2010-11 except for March, when business dropped off noticeably, according to Richardson. He briefed Pitkin County commissioners Tuesday on ambulance activity.
The district realized about $70,000 in savings by going from three ambulances to two during the ski day, and service did not suffer, Richardson said.
"We never needed it. It was the right decision," he said. "Who knows if last winter's volumes will be the new norm?"
Aspen Ambulance responds to calls for injured parties at Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk during ski season (Snowmass Ambulance handles calls at Snowmass Ski Area) as well as general 911 calls for ambulance service.
Although the service had two ambulances at the ready for the 2011-12 season, it did staff three ambulances during the holidays, and Richardson and operations manager Gabe Muething were able to staff a third ambulance at other times as needed. Snowmass Ambulance came over to Aspen a handful of times last winter to help, while the Aspen service helped out in Snowmass about 15 times, according to Richardson.
Aspen Ambulance can reactivate a third ambulance if calls for service return to their old, higher levels next winter, he added.
Pitkin County contracts with Aspen Valley Hospital for the operation of Aspen Ambulance, and county commissioners oversee the ambulance district's budget in their additional role as the district's board of directors.
In the long term, Richardson said, commissioners will need to have a discussion about stabilizing the ambulance district's finances. Aspen Ambulance charges for its services but also is supported by a property tax mill levy of 0.82, which has remained unchanged since it was first established in 1982.