Aspenites still paying to play, but recreation spending dips
July 27, 2009
ASPEN – Recreation in Aspen isn’t recession-proof, but residents aren’t letting economic woes cut into their outdoor play.
Participation in everything from golf and softball to membership in the Aspen Recreation Center is holding its own, even as locals struggle with job losses and smaller paychecks.
On the other hand, fewer individuals took part in Aspen’s July 4 Boogie’s Dinner Buddy Five this year. The popular fundraiser (registration was $40 per person and $80 for a family) boasted 744 finishers this year, compared to 819 last year.
And some segments of the recreation industry that cater to Aspen’s tourists are feeling the pinch, not to mention a trend toward last-minute bookings that has trickled down from the lodging business. These days, many visitors who book whitewater rafting trips or outings with a fishing guide are doing so without much advance notice.
“When the town is not busy, it’s reflected here as well,” said Steve Aitken, director of the Aspen Golf Club, where revenue from green fees so far this season are down about 20 percent from last year’s pace.
While it’s mainly visitors who pay the daily green fee rate – currently $99 with a cart for 18 holes during peak hours – local golfers tend to purchase a season pass or 20-punch pass. Sales of those passes – for $1,000 and $525, respectively – slipped just 1 percent. “We thought it would be down more than that,” Aitken said.
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Locals are apparently hitting the links with their usual fervor, though the cold, rainy June was a setback for golf business.
It didn’t help the whitewater rafting industry either, which offers special early season rates to lure locals in May and June. On the other hand, rafting enthusiasts enjoyed twin peaks, with high water in late May and again in late June as the runoff reintensified after dropping back during the cold weather. Slaughterhouse Falls below Aspen remained runable through July 4 – always a boon for the rafting industry, noted Jim Ingram, owner of Aspen Whitewater Rafting.
Still, business is down this year, he said.
“Our business relies on how many people are in town,” Ingram said. “People are watching their money. They’re not doing as much, and they’re not staying as long.”
At the close of the season, Ingram predicts his revenues will be down 15 to 20 percent, but the company – now it its sixth year of operation – has seen annual, double-digit growth since it began, and it posted a record season last year, he said.
“To be down 15 percent this year isn’t that bad,” Ingram said.
Blazing Adventures, a Snowmass Village-based outfitter that offers rafting trips, as well as biking and other activities, reported a dip in group business, but overall numbers that are comparable to last year.
Last-minute bookings – the “domino effect” of last-minute lodging reservations – are this season’s sign of the times, said a Blazing Adventures spokesperson.
Area fishing guides, who also cater primarily to tourists, are reporting the impact of frugal consumers to varying degrees and watching last-minute bookings improve their bottom lines.
Roaring Fork Anglers in Glenwood Springs and Alpine Angling in Carbondale, which are both under the same ownership, are seeing a dip in the demand for guided trips and a lot more spur-of-the-moment bookings, according to Tom Trowbridge, manager at Roaring Fork Anglers.
“Often, for us, most of July is booked up long before it gets here,” he said. Not this season, though.
Trowbridge anticipates retail receipts at Roaring Fork Anglers will be down a bit at year’s end even though the shop has been hopping lately.
Business is off a little, but not a lot, for Aspen Flyfishing, said guide Chris Lemons.
“I didn’t know what to expect going into this summer, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” he said. “We’re doing OK.”
Loyal customers are returning and booking guided trips, Lemon said. Down is the group business from individuals entertaining clients with a fly fishing outing and business from individuals who aren’t avid anglers but were willing to book a trip just to try it in the past, he said.
Business at Taylor Creek Fly Shop in Basalt is holding steady, said a spokesman there, as has the guide business at Crystal Fly Shop in Carbondale. The Crystal’s retail operation is actually up a bit, said owner Dave Johnson.
Overall, though, business for fishing guides (they work as independent contractors) in the valley is down, Johnson said.
“There are a lot more junior guides looking for work, and even some of the more established guides aren’t as busy as they would normally be,” he said.
One shuttle operator who moves vehicles for fishing guides – vehicles and boat trailers need to be driven from launch spots to take-out sites – reported business was down significantly this year, Johnson added.
While local anglers tend to hit the river without the assistance of a guide, Aspenites are spending money on other recreational pursuits.
The Aspen Recreation Department’s summer softball program boasts 32 teams – up two from last year, and the adult soccer league expanded from four teams to seven this season, said Tim Anderson, recreation director.
Local pass purchases for the Aspen Recreation Center are holding steady, but the sale of 20-punch cards is down, and revenue from daily visits is off by 25 percent. The decline in punch pass and daily rate revenues is a sign of fewer tourists using the facility, he said.
Anderson anticipates overall revenues will be down about 3 percent at year’s end, but he’s not surprised to see locals continuing to spend recreation dollars.
“People need their recreation,” Anderson said. “When times are tough, then the thing you need is your workout, getting out with your friends and playing softball. It’s the last thing they’re going to let go of – that’s just my personal opinion.”