Aspen, other resorts hope more snow ignites bookings
SKICO ASSESSING EARLY OPENING
Good early-season snow with another storm brewing has fueled hopes among some Roaring Fork Valley residents for an early opening at Aspen Mountain.
Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman Jeff Hanle said late Tuesday afternoon it was too early to speculate.
“We will evaluate once we see what (Tuesday night’s) storm brings us,” Hanle said.
Aspenweather.net forecasted that 5 to 8 inches would fall Tuesday night and into Wednesday for the slopes of the Aspen-Snowmass ski areas and up to 6 inches were possible in Aspen. That’s in addition to several inches that fell throughout late October and early November.
Skico’s policy is to open terrain on Aspen Mountain as soon as it can offer a good product, Hanle said.
The scheduled opening dates are Nov. 26 at Aspen Mountain and Snowmass, and Dec. 12 for Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk.
Tourism officials in Aspen and throughout western U.S. ski resorts hope another widespread snowstorm this week will trigger a blizzard of bookings.
Reservations that are already on the books for November through March remain sluggish for many resorts, according to Ralf Garrison, director of DestiMetrics, a company that tracks occupancy and reservations for resort clients in six western states.
As of Sept. 30, the advance bookings for this ski season were down 1.1 percent compared with last year, aggregated for all resorts DestiMetrics works with, he said. Data is still coming in, but it looks like the picture will be only “marginally” better as of Oct. 31, he said.
“The various forces at play have had a mixed result,” Garrison said.
Snow in October and early November has spurred bookings in some resorts, particularly in California, according to Garrison. Resorts in the Far West suffered through two droughts, so there is pent up demand in some of the big California markets. Mammoth Mountain opened early to meet that demand and other California resorts are preparing to gear up early.
In other areas, such as the Rocky Mountains, uncertainty about the economy has worked against early snowfall. Garrison noted that the strength of the dollar will discourage some international travelers from taking trips this winter. For European travelers, a ski vacation in the U.S. will cost about 25 percent more this season than last year, he said.
In Aspen and Snowmass Village, the pace of bookings is gaining momentum as ski season draws near, according to Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, a central bookings agency. However, there was plenty of room for improvement. “It was definitely a slow start,” he said.
“It’s the complete opposite of last year, when things started super strong out of the gate, but then we started to lose momentum through October and November,” Tomcich said. “Bookings for this winter started slow but are clearly continuing to build momentum.”
The strong dollar and competition among Western resorts creates “headwinds” for Aspen and Snowmass to battle, Tomcich said. He was optimistic that a snowstorm would help build the momentum.
“It can definitely help a lot,” he said.
DestiMetrics will release a report by Nov. 18 that provides a comprehensive look at where bookings stand at the end of October compared with last year. Stay Aspen Snowmass releases resort-specific data when DestiMetrics releases its report.
The early onset of cold temperatures helped Aspen Skiing Co. get a good jump on snowmaking. Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said he checked with Skico operations and learned that snowmaking is ahead of where it usually is at this time. Skico’s policy is to start making snow whenever conditions allow starting Nov. 1.
Conditions in November were the opposite this year compared with last year. In 2014, conditions stayed warm well into November, then a cold streak dropped the temperature to single digits for 100 straight hours, allowing the snowmakers to go all-out. But snowmaking came to an abrupt halt when temperatures were too warm for 18 consecutive days in December.
This year, crews have already made snow at Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands and Snowmass on several nights, Hanle said. Operations will gear up later at Buttermilk.
Boot packing commenced Monday in Highland Bowl at Aspen Highlands.
Skico is prepared to jump at the opportunity to trumpet the arrival of new snow. Social media and direct email will be used to inform prospective customers about the powder.
Garrison said skiers and snowboarders start paying more attention to snowfall as Thanksgiving gets closer. While it’s always important for the resorts to get snow, travelers tend to get particularly excited when it snows in their hometowns. They figure if they have snow, the resorts must have good conditions.
“We call it backyard snow,” Garrison said.
The forecast called for a storm to dump snow across the West on Tuesday night and today, then rake the Midwest and Eastern states with rain. That will provide lots of “positive messages” for the ski industry, Garrison said.
The bulk of winter reservations are made between Labor Day and Thanksgiving, according to Garrison. October is typically significantly busier than September, and November is significantly busier than October. Therefore, snow in early November can only help the cause. Given the slow start to bookings, he considers the outlook for ski season too close to call at this time.
“This game will be won or lost when we get to the November data,” Garrison said.
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“There are parts of (Grizzly Creek Fire) that got 8 inches of snow in the recent weeks, but we still have activity on warm days,” a Forest Service spokesman said. “We’ll probably need some kind of season-ending weather event, like a big rain or snow to put it completely out.”