Jam-packed | AspenTimes.com

Jam-packed

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

It’s busy in Aspen.

That’s usually a given for the week between Christmas and New Year’s day. But after last year’s slowdown and the long list of current potential constraints ? United Airlines in bankruptcy, terrorism, pending war, economic slowdown ? it is a relief for many that the town is back to its usual hectic holiday pace.

“We’ve got a chance of closing in on 90 percent occupancy this week, which, if it happens, will be the first time that has happened since 1997-98,” said Bill Tomcich, the president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, the communities’ central reservations agency. “And we’re still getting a lot of last-minute bookings for this week.”

And according to estimates from the Aspen Consolidated Sanitation District, the Aspen metro area is full of people taking showers, washing dishes and flushing toilets.

On Sunday, the total wastewater flow at the treatment plant for the day was the highest for the holiday season so far, with 2.18 million gallons being treated.

At an estimated 90 gallons per capita, that means there were about 24,200 people in the Aspen area, according to the district’s estimate.

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That includes year-round residents, guests renting short-term accommodations, part-time residents and their guests, and anyone in town just for the day.

“It gives us a pretty accurate summary of how many people are in town,” said Bruce Matherly, the district manager, of the district’s calculations.

And today is likely to be even busier. Last Dec. 31 was one of the busier days of the year, with an estimated 28,334 people in the Aspen metro area, which does not include Snowmass Village.

The Aspen Skiing Co. is also pleased with how the holiday season has been going. While there was some cold and gray weather last week, the past four days have been warm and sunny, and people have been out riding lifts.

“Our figures show that we are off to the best start of the season since the record year of 1997-98,” said David Perry, Skico’s senior vice president of marketing and sales. “And we are 24 percent ahead of last year, year-to-date. It’s great. And it’s clearly the Christmas vacation numbers that are driving those results.”

While the Skico didn’t hit any record days last week, business has been steady across all four mountains. And yesterday’s 4 inches of fresh snow came just as the slopes were getting skied off.

“The things beyond our control, like snow and weather, have all performed just as we have wished,” Perry said.

The relatively clear weather has also allowed United Express flights to get in and out of Aspen without serious delays.

“Operationally, we are running very smoothly,” said Chris McLaughlin, the hub manager in Aspen for United Express.

Total in-bound enplanements to Aspen on United Express from Dec. 1 to Dec. 29 are 24 percent above last year during the same period and 5 percent above two years ago, he said.

The load factor, or the how full by percentage the average flight has been, is 74 percent for United this month. Last December the airline’s load factor was 63 percent.

“We haven’t hit a day since the 21st when the load factor was below 70 percent,” McLaughlin said.

Of course, what comes in eventually goes out, and the flights out of Aspen are essentially sold out from now until Tuesday, Jan. 7, according to Tomcich.

General aviation and private jet traffic at the Aspen airport has been busy but running smoothly, said Cliff Runge of Aspen Base Operations.

“We have had no real problems,” Runge said. “The weather has really helped us out of a lot.

Runge anticipates, however, that Friday, Saturday and Sunday should be very busy days for private plane traffic, especially on Sunday after the lifts close.

And the first full week in January, while certainly slower than this week, is still showing signs that it will be busy.

“It is already booked to 62 percent,” said Tomcich of the week beginning Jan. 5. “And last year’s occupancy rate was 57 percent. So it is going to drop off, but not as much as last year.”

A busy Christmas and New Year’s week can provide a good “bounce” for the rest of the ski season, as people go home and tell their friends and co-workers that the skiing is good.

“The potential word-of-mouth advertising, as these holiday visitors go home, is immeasurable, and it is something we haven’t had in quite some time,” Tomcich said.

[Brent Gardner-Smith’s e-mail address is bgs@aspentimes.com]

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