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September 23, 2013
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Aspen’s fall off-season about to hit its stride

With early September events such as Jazz Aspen Snowmass and Ruggerfest out of the way, Aspen’s lengthy fall offseason is about to hit its stride.

Visitors who come for the fall colors will bring some business to town this week and perhaps the next, according to Bill Tomcich, president of reservations firm Stay Aspen Snowmass. But for all practical purposes, Aspen stands to be pretty quiet for the next 13 weeks. Tourism activity isn’t expected to pick up until the last half of December, an annual fact of life for the community.

“We should see a few pretty strong weekends and soft mid-weeks,” Tomcich said with regard to hotel bookings in last two weeks of September and first week of October. “And then by mid-October it will get to be very quiet, on the weekends as well. Everybody is so focused on summer and winter, and the fall shoulder season just is what it is.”

The leaf-lookers who come in late September and early October are a bit of a wild card because they make last-minute lodging arrangements, Tomcich said. There are other variables associated with that crowd, such as the possibility of less-than-dazzling fall foliage, which would mean fewer visitors.

The leaf-watching activity also is weather dependent, and if rains continue with the regularity of the last two months they could wash away much of that business.

Still, Tomcich said, advance bookings show that occupancy rates for Aspen hotels likely will be as good as they were last year at this time. An Aug. 31 report from Denver hotel tracking firm DestiMetrics indicated that last Friday’s and Saturday’s occupancy rates would be at least 65 percent collectively. Over the next two weekends, the rates should be at least 50 percent.

With last-minute bookings occurring, those occupancy rates could end up being significantly higher.

“Last year, in the end, we ended up at over 75 percent occupancy for the last week of September, and the first weekend of October ended up over 80 percent,” he said.

The number of available rooms also shrinks in the offseason, since several hotels and lodges in the area close temporarily. That list includes The Little Nell, which plans a short break from Oct. 21 to Nov. 2; and the Wildwood Snowmass Hotel, which closed after Labor Day weekend and reopens Dec. 12.

Other properties scheduling partial closures either in October or November or both months, according to DestiMetrics, include the Aspen Mountain Lodge (closed Oct. 20 to Nov. 26) and the Stonebridge Inn (planning to close for a few weeks starting in late October) in Snowmass Village. (To find out if or when an Aspen or Snowmass Village lodging property is closed, readers are advised to call the hotel property directly.)

Contrary to rumor, the Hotel Jerome in Aspen will be open for the entire fall offseason, at roughly half the staff of the height of the winter season, general manager Tony DiLucia said. There was a discussion among hotel officials about a temporary closure, but the idea was nixed.

“It’s always under discussion, but we already closed in the spring and we wanted to leave it at one closing a year for now,” he said. “We’re just going to trudge on through and (advertise) some specials to the Front Range.”

The J-Bar will remain open as usual; lunch and dinner will continue to be served in the bar daily, he said. After Oct. 1, the hotel will offer a offseason discount rate of $175 per night to Colorado residents, DiLucia added.

Of course, offseason closures aren’t limited to the hospitality industry. Several restaurants shutter temporarily during the offseason — too many to list in this space. Takah Sushi always closes during the fall offseason; its last night of post-summer business was Sept. 14 and its winter-season reopening is set for Dec. 10, an employee said.

Other eateries and bars thrive during the autumn shoulder season, offering specials to locals and relying on football games to draw a crowd. Such is the case at Finnbar’s Irish Pub, in the Hyman Avenue pedestrian mall and many other establishments.

Assistant manager Carol Peachey of Finnbar’s said the restaurant and bar will be open seven days a week.

“We’re a sports bar and with baseball playoffs and football games we have a reason to be open,” she said. “Everyone’s still on (staff) but we reduce hours a little bit.”

Brad Smith, general manager of The Red Onion in the Cooper Avenue mall, said he’s planning to remain open through the fall as long as there is enough business to justify it.

“Right now, we’re planning on being open. If it gets really slow in November we might close on Tuesdays, but that would be about it,” he said.

Live-music and other nightly entertainment offerings will be scaled back, but Open-Mic Night on Mondays will continue through the entire offseason, Smith said.

“I think the spring offseason is much slower than the fall,” he said. “When the ski areas close in April and Independence Pass isn’t open yet, there’s just not a lot to do and people are out of here. But in the fall, the pass is usually open at least till Halloween so you can get traffic from the Front Range. You also get new people moving in for the ski season.”

asalvail@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Sep 23, 2013 04:41PM Published Sep 25, 2013 11:59AM Copyright 2013 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.