Aspen skier visits up 1 to 2 percent; state resorts down 2 percent |

Aspen skier visits up 1 to 2 percent; state resorts down 2 percent

ASPEN – Aspen Skiing Co. held onto a small increase in skier visits for the season through February while the rest of state ski industry limped along with a slight decrease over the same period, according to reports released Thursday.

The Skico’s skier and rider visits were up “1 to 2 percent” for the season heading into March, spokesman Jeff Hanle said. He credited Skico’s strong international business through January and another surge of activity at Mardi Gras for helping boost the numbers.

Buttermilk has logged the biggest percentage increase this season among the Skico’s four ski areas, Hanle said. Snowmass is showing the next best strength.

Skico officials have said the company increased spending on marketing this season to try to offset some effects of the recession. They have declined to disclose how much more they have spent.

“It’s a considerable amount we put out there,” Hanle said.

While marketing is aimed primarily at tourists, local pass use has climbed this season over last season for reasons unknown. Hanle said there are some theories that locals who upgraded to premiere passes this season are hitting the slopes more often, even if it means just heading up during their lunch hour some days. Another theory is that unemployed or underemployed locals have more time to ski, he said.

Whatever the reasons, the Skico is outperforming the rest of the state ski industry as a whole.

Colorado Ski Country USA, a state trade association, announced Thursday that skier and rider visits for its 22 member resorts, including the Skico, were down 2 percent for the season through February compared to last year. State skier visits were down 4 percent during January and February and flat for the Skico.

Dry conditions at some resorts in January resulted in a “sizable drop in visits,” according to Ski Country President and CEO Melanie Mills. Better snow and “great deals” boosted business in February, she said.

Vail Resorts, which isn’t a member of Colorado Ski Country, reported its results independently on Wednesday. Skier and riders visits at Vail Mountain, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone – typically some of the busiest resorts in the state – were down 1.6 percent, the company reported. Skier visits at Vail Mountain alone were down 7.7 percent in November, December and January, the Vail Daily reported.

The Skico might be able to hold onto its slight increase over last season. Advance reservations are tracking slightly ahead of last season in Aspen for March, according to a recent occupancy report.

Skier and rider visits were down 7.6 percent for Skico during the 2008-09 season. A visit, the industry’s basic measure of business, represents a skier or rider hitting the slopes for any part of the day.

ASPEN – Select chairlifts at the Aspen Skiing Co’s four ski areas will run until 4 p.m. for the rest of the season starting Sunday to take advantage of daylight savings.

The Skico announced that hours will be extended on the Silver Queen Gondola and Ajax Express at Aspen Mountain; the Village Express, Sheer Bliss and Elk Camp Gondola at Snowmass; Exhibition at Aspen Highlands; and Summit Express and Panda Peak at Buttermilk.

Clocks get set forward an hour at 2 a.m. Saturday, pushing sunsets into the evening.

The Skico is also celebrating the extra sun with extension pricing for holders of flex passes and classic passes. Flex pass holders can purchase extension days for $39 per day, and classic passholders can purchase extension days for $59 per day for adults, $35 per day for college-age customers and youth. The extension days will be offered March 14 through April 11.

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