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Aspen’s economy lodges are lacking economy customers

Janet Urquhart

While resort officials have been decrying Aspen’s loss of economy lodging, the owners of some small lodges claim an absence of economy-minded guests is the problem.

Though Aspen is boasting its best early-season snow conditions in three years, several lodge owners say they’re looking at too many blank spaces in their reservation books.

“There’s not a lack of lodge rooms in this town. There’s a lack of guests,” said P.J. Sullivan, manager at the Mountain House Lodge. Advance bookings for the ski season are down over years past, and like other lodge operators, Sullivan is worried.

“The bookings are kind of scary,” she said.

At Aspen Central Reservations the phone is ringing, reported Bill Tomcich, president. The ACR can book stays at nearly all the lodging properties in town but accounts for only about 5 to 6 percent of the overall bookings each year.

“Our bookings are way up, but from what I’m hearing from the properties, it’s off pace,” he said. Some lodge and hotel properties are doing well while others are not, Tomcich added.

At the Holland House, which handles bookings without assistance from ACR, business is good, according to Yasmine dePagter. “We are booked really very solid throughout the season,” she said.

But Norma Dolle, longtime owner of the Snow Queen Lodge, still has rooms available for the Christmas holidays. That’s not typical for the seven-room lodge, she said.

“I answer the phone and it’s just not ringing,” she said. “It’s almost scary.

“We’ve got better snow. I’m kind of scratching my head and saying `what’s going on here?'”

Bookings are down at the Chalet Lisl, too, according to owner Carol Blomquist, who has rented out two units for the season at a discounted rate just to fill them up. Blomquist said she may turn more of her units into long-term rentals next season.

Like Dolle, she is amazed to hear Aspen Skiing Co. officials and Tomcich bemoan Aspen’s loss in bed base.

“I do have to laugh when I see articles in the paper about the loss of economy pillows,” Blomquist said. “I’m sitting here thinking, `where are all these economy people?'”

Aspen’s pillow drain is real, according to Tomcich. By his count, the number of pillows in “economy” accommodations dropped from 1,410 to 398 pillows in five years.

“You can see the trend. That fact cannot be disputed,” Tomcich said. “We have lost a lot of economy lodges.”

The bleak bookings at some remaining lodges are being blamed on several factors, including a strong U.S. dollar overseas and the aging of loyal guests who have been dependable customers at local lodges. Some of the Chalet Lisl’s regular visitors are now in their 80s and have simply given up skiing, Blomquist said.

“And I do think that Aspen is known as an extremely expensive place to stay,” she said.

Visitors don’t know they can find economy lodging and reasonably priced restaurants here, Dolle agreed.

Worse, visitors may find luxury-class hotels offering discounted rooms, especially during the off-season, which extends into early December.

High-end properties are getting creative at selectively discounting their rates – mostly to compete with other ski resorts, Tomcich said.

“We might be able to offer a price for the Hotel Jerome that’s the same as the price at the Christmas Inn,” he said. “The higher-end properties are doing whatever they can to fill rooms.

“They’re not doing it to squash the little guys in town, but they’ve got to do what they’ve got to do to fill their rooms,” Tomcich said.

The town doesn’t really see its first rush until Dec. 28 or 29, according to Tomcich. That means guests seeking a long weekend at Christmas might run across some last-minute deals as properties cut prices and offer shorter minimum stays to fill up vacant rooms.

A check with Aspen Central Reservations Friday for a room for two on Dec. 23-28, for example, produced a range of prices. The ACR quoted accommodations available at Aspen Mountain Lodge for $299 per night; at Chalet Lisl for $186; at the Christmas Inn for $159; at the Skiers Chalet for $180; at L’Auberge for $299; at the Boomerang for $231; and at the Limelight for $265. The St. Moritz Lodge had hostel-style beds available for $49 per night.

But Aspen Meadows, a deluxe property, was offering rooms for $175.

“What happens is, at certain times of the year we’re getting selective discounts from some of the higher-end properties. They’re very enticing,” Tomcich said.


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