Aspen moves past holidays to the heart of winter

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aubree Dallas The Aspen Times
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(*) in millions

Year January February

2014 $70.62 $62.69

2013 $67.45 $58.68

2012 $65.05 $56.11

2011 $58.12 $49.97

2010 $57.31 $49.14

2009 $54.93 $51.39

2008 $66.19 $61.71

2007 $59.47 $55.82

Source: City of Aspen

The hectic Christmas and New Year’s holiday weeks are now part of the past, and Aspen’s winter tourism activity is expected to settle into a pattern of brief lulls and extreme busyness.

“We’re enjoying a relative breather right now,” said Bill Tomcich, president of reservations firm Stay Aspen Snowmass. “But a lot of international visitors and groups will be coming very soon.”

Australians already have started arriving, according to Kristi Kavanaugh Bradley, who manages global sales for Aspen Skiing Co. Brazilians are making their way into the area, as well, but they will be more of a tourism force later this month and into February for their Carnivale season, otherwise known as the Mardi Gras period.

Mardi Gras Day, which sparks many festivities in Snowmass Village, falls on Feb. 17 this year, more than two weeks earlier than last year.

For now, though, expect to hear quite a bit of Aussie lingo around town.

“This is when the Australians are on their summer holiday,” Bradley said. “It’s easier for them to travel this time of year. And Aspen is one of their favorite places.”

The Australian dollar hit a five-year low against the U.S. dollar on Monday. But currency issues are not dissuading international travel to Aspen so far, Bradley said.

“We’re comfortable with what we see,” she said of advance winter sales for lift tickets, ski schools and rental gear.

The month of January means Gay Ski Week, Jan. 11 to Jan. 18, which brings significant numbers of visitors, Tomcich said. A full schedule of events can be viewed on the Internet at http://www.gayski

“If Gay Ski Week wasn’t there, lodging occupancy would certainly be a lot lower,” Tomcich said. “It’s certainly not a peak week, the way it once was, but it certainly will bring a very noticeable amount of people in town.”

Gay Ski Week is important to the local tourism economy, but it doesn’t quite compare with Winter X Games, Jan. 21 to Jan. 25, when local hotels and lodges are expected to sell out for at least two days.

“For a very short duration of time, X Games will sell out every single room in this valley,” Tomcich said.

Comparatively, area hotels had sellouts for at least five days between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. And the X Games brings a completely different crowd, he noted, mostly older teenagers and young adults, while the holiday crowds are mostly represented by affluent families traveling in sync.

“Winter X visitors are looking more for individual hotel rooms,” Tomcich said. During the Christmas holidays, he said, “We can’t have enough of the larger units, private homes, condominiums. We sell out the hotel rooms, too.”

As for February, Tomcich said sold-out room nights will likely be on Presidents Day weekend, Feb. 13 to Feb. 16. The actual Presidents Day holiday falls on Feb. 16 — the day before Mardi Gras Day — meaning that mid-February is looking to be extremely busy around Aspen and Snowmass Village.

“The third week of February looks particularly strong this year,” he said.

The period between Winter X Games and Presidents Day will represent a lull similar to the one this week, Tomcich said. That doesn’t mean it won’t still be fairly busy in the area, especially if snowfall remains consistent and draws last-minute travelers.

The airlines are adjusting their flight schedules to represent the slight downturn in tourism. From Monday through Feb. 11, the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport will handle eight to 10 commercial flights from Denver. The peak schedules will go back into effect Feb. 12, perhaps lasting through Easter Sunday, which falls on April 5 this year.

Advance bookings for hotel and lodge rooms in January and February are pacing slightly ahead of last year’s advance reservations, Tomcich said. As for March, they are pacing slightly behind.

But Stay Aspen Snowmass reservations business for March has picked up recently because Skico is extending certain key promotions into that month, including its “Perfect Storm” and “Kids Ski and Stay Free” packages, Tomcich said.

“The validity dates have been expanded to encompass more dates within the month of March,” Tomcich said.

The better March sales figures may be reflected in the next round of occupancy reports, which Denver-based DestiMetrics LLC, a company that tracks resort activity, is expected to release next week.

Visitors from the United Kingdom and Mexico will hit the area hard around Easter week, Bradley said. Europeans travel to Aspen throughout the winter.

“The Aspen community has always focused on certain key international markets,” she said. “We’ll have a very versatile skier mix over the next few months.”

January is typically the second- or third-biggest month in terms of overall sales in Aspen, according to the city’s Finance Department. It ranks behind December, which is driven by the huge shopping days leading up to Christmas.

“January usually accounts for about 12 percent of the year’s sales and is pretty much tied with March for the second-highest sales behind December (15 percent),” city accounting supervisor Chris Lundgren wrote in an email to The Aspen Times on Tuesday.