Aspen fills up for Food & Wine |

Aspen fills up for Food & Wine

The word is “rebound.”With the Aspen Food & Wine Magazine Classic, the traditional opening to the summer tourist season, kicking off today, local businesses are toasting the improved economy. Lisa LeMay, manager of the Aspen T-Shirt Co., said Food & Wine is “always our biggest kick off.” But she said business feels brisker this mid-June than past summers.”We had a really strong offseason,” LeMay said, commenting on a constant flow of customers that was decidedly unlike previous years “when you’d look out at the mall and not see a soul for eight hours.” The Aspen Chamber Resort Association won’t have an exact count of visitors who stay in Aspen until the festival ends. But president and CEO Hana Pevny explained that by all practical measures, Aspen is booked. “Just the high-end stuff is open and a smattering of hotels and condominiums,” said Eric Fullerton, director of sales and marketing for Stay Aspen Snowmass, a local reservation agency. This week’s projected occupancy is 13 percent higher than last year at the same time, he said. While it should be noted that the Food & Wine Classic did not coincide with the same week last year, Fullerton said all indicators point to an improvement in business. And by today, he predicted, “the town should be completely packed.”Fullerton credits the influx in part to recent publicity about Colorado in Travel Weekly. According to the Travel Industry Association of America, Colorado ranks fifth on a list of the top 10 destinations this summer. The Gant condominiums, located on the east end of town, have no vacancy, said director of sales and marketing Elise Defor. The Gant, with 140 units that can accommodate 650 people, is the largest short-term rental property in Aspen.Though these numbers are normal for Food & Wine week, Defor said she is grateful for what she perceives as a rebound in the economy. “People are feeling more confident in traveling,” she said. “The trend is continuing on from this winter.” Even the campgrounds around Aspen are filling up, rangers from the White River National Forest report. The Silver Bell, Silver Bar and Silver Queen campgrounds, three of the four Aspen campgrounds that accept reservations, all located along Maroon Creek, are filled to capacity through Sunday, according to the National Recreation Reservation Service. The Difficult Campground, a larger facility located up Independence Pass with 47 family campsites and one group campsite, still has 15 spaces available. Other campgrounds near Independence Pass are available without reservations, but ranger Shelly Grail said these are busy too. “Summer is here,” she said. And the tourists keep coming. New Zealander Deborah Chait, attending this weekend’s festival for the first time, said she is enamored with our mountain community. Running down the Rio Grande trail with pine needles underfoot, she said: “The smells are just like a fairy tale.” And the chefs hadn’t even started cooking yet. Katie Clary’s e-mail address is

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