Aspen Skiing Co. ‘didn’t do well enough’ last season |

Aspen Skiing Co. ‘didn’t do well enough’ last season

ASPEN – Aspen Skiing Co. executives are looking for a better performance this season after the company’s skier visits failed to match the growth rates of the national ski industry, the Colorado ski industry and rival Vail Resorts last season.

David Perry, Skico senior vice president, mountain division, told Pitkin County commissioners that the Skico’s 1.7 percent growth to 1,361,000 skier visits last winter was disappointing.

“Although we were glad to see a little bit of an increase year over year, we don’t think we did well enough, to be honest,” he said. “We think the bar was up where Colorado [as a whole] was.”

Perry, Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan, and Christian Knapp, vice president of marketing, headed a briefing in an annual fall meeting with the commissioners. They recapped what happened last season and how the coming season is shaping up.

The National Ski Areas Association reported that its members recorded 60.5 million skier visits during the season, an increase of 0.6 percent from the prior season and a new record.

The 22 members of Colorado Ski Country USA, a state trade association, logged a 2.6 percent increase. That growth includes the Skico’s four ski areas.

Vail Resorts recorded a 4 percent increase at its four Colorado resorts.

After the meeting, Perry said the weather, the date of Easter and progress by competing resorts all played into Skico’s trouble matching the growth of some other Colorado resorts.

Vail and other resorts along Interstate 70 “won the snow lottery,” Perry said. When four inches of powder piled up at Aspen-Snowmass resorts, a foot of snow often blessed the resorts along the interstate because of the prevailing weather pattern, he said.

Skico’s business performance was looking strong until late in the season. Occupancy reports showed tourists still came to town in late March and early April, but they didn’t hit the slopes with the frequency expected, according to Perry. Part of that was the weather: Cold, overcast days rarely broke for classic, sunny spring skiing, he said.

In addition, Easter fell late in the season, on April 24, so that affected some travel patterns.

But, Perry said, snow conditions and the calendar can’t be used as excuses. Aspen and Snowmass Village are also facing stiffer competition than in past seasons, both he and Kaplan stressed to the commissioners. Other resorts have added “hot beds,” while Aspen’s lodging inventory continued to shrink.

“They are going after our business,” Perry said. “This reminds us that we have a lot of work to do to grow our skier visits and get back to where we used to be.”

Kaplan said destination ski resorts in the Western U.S. added roughly 1,236 hotel rooms and suites and 540 residences in the last two years. That includes:

• 100 hotel rooms and 60 residences in the Madeleine Hotel in Telluride;

• 121 hotel rooms and 35 residences at the Four Seasons in Vail;

• 100 hotel rooms and 38 residences at the Sebastian in Vail;

• 106 residences at the Ritz-Carlton Residences in Vail;

• 78 residences at the Solaris in Vail;

• 210 hotel rooms and suites at the Westin Riverfront at Beaver Creek;

• 181 hotel rooms and 67 residences at the St. Regis Deer Crest in Deer Valley;

• 174 hotel rooms and 81 residences at the Montage in Deer Valley;

• 177 hotel rooms and 75 residences at the Ritz-Carlton at Lake Tahoe-Northstar.

Snowmass Village added 173 hotel rooms and suites with the Viceroy.

County Commissioner George Newman cautioned against reacting too rashly and rushing out to add lodge rooms. He said Aspen has always had a healthy debate about the proper balance between resort and community. In addition, the resorts that have added so many rooms in the midst of the recession have relied on deep discounts to attract customers, he said.

Kaplan responded that Telluride has increased its market share through the addition of hot beds. Aspen-Snowmass must keep its inventory at least at current levels, he said.

Perry said the Skico wasn’t advocating a massive push to add beds.

“We’re not talking about a building boom. We’re not talking about sprawl. That’s what happened in other places,” Perry said. “Steady increases to regain some of the lost lodging is important.”

Although skiers and riders from Colorado’s Front Range have a lot of resorts to choose from that are closer than Aspen, the Aspen Skiing Co. isn’t giving them up without a fight.

Skico has purchased space on standard and digital billboards in Denver this fall touting its Classic Pass. The pass was designed several seasons ago to attract skiers and riders from throughout the region, from Denver to Grand Junction.

“It was more popular a few years ago, before the economic downturn,” said Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle. The Skico is trying to rebuild that popularity. The four- and seven-day Classic Pass are marketed for affordability. The adult, four-day pass is sold for $199, or about $50 per day, while the seven-day pass goes for $329, or $47 per day.

The Skico purchased space on billboards in Denver at Interstate 70 and Ward, and where Highway 36 and I-25 come together, catching traffic coming from Fort Collins and Boulder. In addition, a digital billboard near the Colorado Convention Center will tout the pass later this fall. In Grand Junction, a billboard along I-70 pitches the pass.

The pass is for sale at Gene Taylor’s sports shop in Grand Junction this weekend, as well as REI stores in Denver this fall and Nov. 4-6 at the Colorado Snowsports Expo at the Colorado Convention Center.

The Classic Pass has also proven popular with skiers in the Roaring Fork Valley who can’t get out as much as they once did or as often as they would like. The pass is available at the Buttermilk ticket office Nov. 4-6 and, for prior pass holders, it can be renewed online.

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