Aspen, western U.S. lodging industry logged very strong winter |

Aspen, western U.S. lodging industry logged very strong winter

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
The front desk workers at the Limelight check in a guest last spring. Final data for the2014-15 winter showed Aspen-Snowmass' lodging industry to have its highest occupancy in at least a decade. The booking pace for next winter, however, has slowed based on September numbers.
Aspen Times file photo |

The Aspen and Snowmass Village lodging industry combined for its strongest winter in at least a decade during the 2014-15 campaign. It wasn’t alone.

Mountain resorts in the Rocky Mountain and Far West states set a record for revenue despite snowfall challenges, according to DestiMetrics, a firm that tracks occupancy data from samples of 290 property-management companies in 19 mountain destination resorts in six states.

Signs indicate the momentum will carry into summer. The reservations on the books for western resorts were up nearly 9 percent as of April 30 compared with last year, according to DestiMetrics.

In Aspen and Snowmass, paid occupancy was 55.5 percent for November through April. That was up 8 percent from last year and surpassed the prior record of 53.6 percent occupancy in 2007-08, according to a report by Stay Aspen Snowmass, a central bookings agency.

A strong national economy and “good snow” spurred the successful winter, according to Stay Aspen Snowmass President Bill Tomcich.

“We had a lot of great snow equity leftover from the prior season,” he said.

Snow equity — a phrase coined by DestiMetrics Director Ralf Garrison — means positive experiences and outlooks on snow conditions for a resort or region. Aspen and Snowmass had above-average snowfall in 2013-14, which gave out-of-state destination travelers confidence that they would find good snow conditions this year, Tomcich said. While snow conditions weren’t as great for much of this season, most destination travelers still thought conditions were “good,” Tomcich said.

Lodges, hotels and tourist condos reaped the benefits. The average daily rate in Aspen increased 2.6 percent to $469 from $457 per night.

The average daily rate for Snowmass Village also increased by 2.6 percent to $390 from $380 per night.

Tomcich said DestiMetrics had analyzed occupancy for Aspen-Snowmass since 2005, Occupancy data prior to that aren’t as reliable.

The only blemish on the winter for the Aspen-Snowmass lodging community was a weak late March. Warm weather enticed people off the slopes and onto bicycles and golf courses.

“It kind of fizzled out toward the end,” Tomcich said. On the other hand, a late Easter fueled a strong beginning to April, he said.

Another misfortune was that Presidents Day weekend and carnival for South American travelers fell on the same time period this year.

“We did turn away a lot of business,” Tomcich said. But there were few missed opportunities.

For mountain resorts in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, California, Nevada and Oregon, combined revenues were up 11.2 percent over last season, according to DestiMetrics. Actually occupancy was up only 5.5 percent.

Garrison said the dry conditions late in the season affected local and regional skiers more than destination travelers. Front Range residents and local residents at various resorts curtail their visits to the slopes when conditions aren’t to their liking, Garrison said, but destination travelers are affected more by the broader economy.

Garrison said there was a record number of destination visits to resorts this winter even though National Ski Areas Association, a trade association, estimated that skier and snowboarder visits dropped 5 percent to an estimated 53.6 million during 2014-15 compared with the season before.

Rocky Mountain resorts will likely continue to reap snow equity next season even though conditions weren’t quite as good in 2014-15 as the prior two winters, according to Garrison. Snow equity is cumulative, so destination travelers, who take longer vacations and typically book in advance, look at Rocky Mountain resorts favorably, he said. California resorts might be facing “negative snow equity” because of the ongoing drought. Skiers who have tried California and had been disappointed over the past few seasons might consider fewer, longer trips next winter, according to Garrison. That could benefit Rocky Mountain resorts where snow conditions are typically more reliable.

A strong destination-traveler market is good news for resorts such as Aspen and Snowmass. Garrison said many multiday travelers are looking for a broader experience, so snow conditions on the slopes don’t necessarily taint their opinion of their experience. When they aren’t enthused about skiing, “they shop, buy and leave more money behind as a result,” Garrison said.