Aspen occupancy sets record in December despite challenges |

Aspen occupancy sets record in December despite challenges

December snow gives a boost to bookings for rest of winter

Visitors exit the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport in Aspen for their vacations last month. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Aspen’s lodging industry had its best December ever despite losing bookings to bad weather over the holidays, according to the latest occupancy report.

Aspen properties had an occupancy rate of 64% during the month, while Snowmass businesses were at 56%, according to the report by a company called DestiMetrics, which examines occupancy and bookings trends at numerous Western mountain resorts. Combined the resorts were just shy of 61% occupancy for the month, the report said.

“The holiday weeks are traditionally the occupancy and rate drivers of the month, which this year were greatly impacted by the incredible snowfall received,” said a summary of the occupancy data by Aspen Skiing Co. “Roughly one-third of the flights over the holidays were cancelled outright or diverted. The significance of this was felt in cancelled reservations, delayed arrivals, missing luggage and an abundance of changes to guests’ holiday plans.”

Despite the challenges, individual properties enjoyed booming business at a time of the year that is their bread and butter.

“Christmas was fantastic,” said Joe Raczak, general manager of the North of Nell Condominiums.

The Skico summary noted the occupancy report only tracks commercial bed use, not private use or rentals by owners, so the actual occupancy level in the two towns was even higher.

The higher occupancy levels in December translated into higher daily rates. DestiMetrics reported the average daily rate in Aspen soared to $945 this December from $635 for the month last season. Snowmass increased to $713 per day from $454.

The snowstorms that created havoc for the holidays have been a boon for bookings.

“Snow is definitely contributing to January’s occupancy growth as Stay Aspen Snowmass recorded our largest single booking week of the year last week.” — Aspen Skiing Co. report

“Snow is definitely contributing to January’s occupancy growth as Stay Aspen Snowmass recorded our largest single booking week of the year last week,” Skico’s summary said. Stay Aspen Snowmass is a central bookings agency affiliated with Skico.

January is pacing at 64% occupancy. That is still down about 6.5% compared to January 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic snuffed most international travel. For the second year in a row, tourist accommodations cannot bank on three-week visits from Australians, noted Bob Morris, manager of Aspen Mountain Lodge.

“We have almost no foreign rentals,” Morris said.

Losing the international business hurts Aspen more than most other Colorado ski resorts, he said. Aspen gets about 25% of its business from overseas travelers, according to Morris. Other resorts are about one-half of that.

But “lots of pent-up demand” from U.S. travelers is filling in books for January, he said.

It comes as no surprise that word of roughly 100 inches of snow at Aspen Snowmass between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2 has captured the attention of skiers and riders considering vacations.

“Getting that 100 inches of snow in December really helped,” Raczak said.

And to his surprise, North of Nell did pick up reservations from 15 to 18 Aussie parties for the month, he said. “They’re coming in little spurts.”

For the winter as a whole, November through April, occupancy at Aspen and Snowmass commercial properties is nearly 49%, according to DestiMetrics’ report. That tops 2019-20 by 2.7%. That season was on par with record business numbers until the COVID lockdown ended travel on March 19.

“I’m fairly optimistic about the year,” Morris said.

Raczak is also optimistic about the season, especially given the challenges presented by COVID-19.

Skico’s summary was cautiously optimistic about record occupancy for the winter.

“January and April remain the only two months pacing behind 2 winters ago but with booking pace showing no signs of slowing, we could see a new record winter occupancy,” Skico’s summary said.