Aspen Skiing Co. eyes growth despite tough times |

Aspen Skiing Co. eyes growth despite tough times

ASPEN – The Aspen Skiing Co. has budgeted for a “single-digit” increase in skier visits during the 2010-11 winter, a spokesman said Friday.

It’s nearly impossible to forecast how the season will unfold even during normal times, said Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle, and it is particularly hard as the country recovers from a recession. Nevertheless, the company sets a budget using the best available preseason metrics. This season, it is looking at an increase ranging between 2 and 6 percent.

“We’re optimistic in budgeting [that] we’ll have a single-digit increase,” Hanle said.

Snowfall totals often make or break a season. Good powder means good business.

Skico’s skier visits plummeted 13 percent in the recession-racked season of 2008-09. The numbers were up 4.3 percent last season in what Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan has labeled in public presentations as “a bounce-back year.”

The Skico logged about 1.28 million skier visits in 2008-09, then 1.34 million last season.

Skier visits is a standard measurement for the industry. It is defined as a skier or snowboard rider visiting a ski area for any part of a day.

The Skico is aggressively marketing “value-added” offers to try to attract business. It has brought back some programs that were successful last season, such as a Kids Stay, Ski Free package with lodges in Aspen and Snowmass Village. It offered the deal in March last season to drive business during spring break. The offer will be extended into April this season.

The Perfect Storm, a package that offered a fifth lift ticket and a fifth night of lodging after purchases of four of each, will also be renewed.

Aspen’s occupancy was up 6.2 percent for the summer – May through September, according to MTRIP, a company that works with western mountain destination resorts to measure business and report on trends. The winter booking period is just getting rolling, so no solid forecasts have been made.

Nationally, analysts see a better year unfolding for the travel and hotel industries.

Vail Resorts – which operates Vail Mountain, Beaver Creek, Keystone and Breckenridge in Colorado and Heavenly in California – doesn’t release its skier visits forecast to the public, said spokeswoman Kelly Ladyga. However, Vail Resorts Chairman and CEO Rob Katz said in a fourth quarter earnings reports on Sept. 23 the company had reason to be “optimistic about the upcoming season.”

Summer tourism was strong, Katz reported, and the trend appeared to be spilling over to winter.

“Although it is still early in the bookings cycle, with less than 15 percent of winter season bookings historically made by this time, most bookings indicators at our resorts are up in both room nights and revenue over the prior year at the same point in time,” Katz said last month. “Especially encouraging is that it appears that bookings for our luxury properties are strong, signaling a lengthening of the booking cycle for this important segment of our business, but also supporting our optimism on the return of destination visitation, a trend we began to see in earnest last spring.”

Vail Resorts skier visits were up 2.3 percent last season.

The U.S. ski industry recorded 59.7 million skier visits last season, the second-best ever. Last season was flat for Colorado’s ski industry.

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