As weekday deal this season, Aspen Ski Plane is not as hot

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The Aspen Ski Plane, cut back to weekday trips only this winter, won’t bring in as many Front Range skiers as it did last season, but it’s drawing more than resort officials expected.

The $99 deal that flies Front Range skiers to Aspen/Snowmass for a day on the slopes attracted more than 1,500 Denver-area skiers and boarders with its debut in the 2001-02 ski season. This winter, it’s on pace to do about a third of that business, according to Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, the local reservations agency that books the flight.

That’s more than Tomcich might have expected, since only 20 percent of the Ski Plane passengers traveled on Monday through Friday last winter, he said.

In the past couple of weeks, interest in the deal has picked up, with 10 to 15 people a day catching the first flight out of Denver International Airport and heading home from Aspen that same evening after a day of skiing or riding.

“It’s nowhere near the numbers we saw last year because it’s not running on the weekends,” Tomcich said. “We expected that.”

The good news is, many of those weekend flights are completely booked for the remainder of the ski season anyway, presumably with a lot of visitors who will spend more than a day here.

“The reality is, for every weekend for the rest of the season through the first weekend in April, the first flight on Saturday is booked and the last flight on Sunday is also booked,” Tomcich said.

If a flight on one end of the day or the other is full, the Ski Plane package is unavailable. This season, the package is offered through April 4.

Last winter, Stay Aspen Snowmass, United Airlines and the Aspen Skiing Co. put together the Ski Plane deal after United curtailed flights in the wake of Sept. 11. The first flight into Aspen and the last ones heading back to Denver were expected to contain a lot of empty seats since United had cut the connecting flights that would normally put passengers in them. The Ski Plane deal helped put travelers on those flights.

This season, those connecting flights are back, so the Ski Plane offer is limited to weekdays only. The Aspen Ski Plane isn’t actually a separate aircraft, but a percentage of seats on existing flights that can be sold as part of the Ski Plane package.

For $99 – $117.50 with taxes and fees – a traveler gets round-trip airfare and a lift ticket for a day on local slopes. Once in Aspen, they may hop on a free bus into town or receive a $10 discount on a High Mountain Taxi ride to the mountain of their choice.

Ski Plane passengers take the 8:20 a.m. flight out of DIA, arriving in Aspen at 9:05 a.m. They head back on one of two flights in the evening, departing at 6:15 or 7 p.m.

Overall commercial airline traffic in and out of Aspen was up a whopping 31 percent in December, compared to the same month in 2001. January numbers were up 17 percent, compared to the prior winter, according to Tomcich.

“That’s another way to say, last season, January wasn’t as bad as December was,” he said.

For the remainder of this winter, Tomcich anticipates passenger numbers will be comparable to last season’s, or up slightly to reflect added service between Aspen and Denver and new service between Aspen and San Francisco.

“The rest of the season is going to be a lot closer to flat – not the big increase like we saw in December and January,” he said.

In January, commercial airline traffic totaled 54,370 passengers coming into or departing from Aspen, according to Tomcich. Total airline capacity for the month, including all service between Aspen and Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Phoenix, Minneapolis and Memphis, was 93,454 seats.

Between Dec. 1 and Jan. 31, 94,745 passengers came through the Aspen airport, compared to 77,341 travelers during that period in the winter of 2001-02, Tomcich said.

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