Conditions boost Aspen Skiing Co. sales |

Conditions boost Aspen Skiing Co. sales

ASPEN ” Great snow ” and lots of it ” is helping the Aspen Skiing Co. offset a lackluster start to the season.

Skier visits at the Skico’s four ski areas were down about 10 percent at the end of December compared to last season.

“We’ve been closing that gap ever since,” said company spokesman Jeff Hanle. The deficit has been whittled down to 3 percent as of Wednesday.

Skier visits measure purchases of lift tickets and season pass use.

“Highlands seems to be our top performer,” Hanle said. Snowmass Ski Area is nearly even with last season while business at Buttermilk and Aspen Mountain is down by a small amount.

The Skico was doing better than the Colorado ski industry as a whole as of the end of December. Colorado Ski Country USA said skier visits were down 12.5 percent compared to the prior season at its 26 member resorts. The trade association won’t release another assessment of business until later in the winter.

Warm and dry conditions were blamed for the slow start to the season, both in Aspen and around the state. Then it began snowing in early December and hasn’t stopped.

There was a lag in business soon after the holiday hordes left in early January, then it picked up again and has stayed busy.

“It looks as if the snow message is paying off,” Hanle said.

No information was available from the Skico on whether locals’ use of season passes was up or down. Hanle suspects locals have hit the slopes more often than last season and more often than most seasons ” simply because of the fabulous conditions created by record snowfall at Snowmass in December and January and near-record snowfall at Aspen.

It snowed on 18 days in December and on 20 days in January. There were 20 days over those two months where skiers and riders dove into four or more inches of powder.

“I think we see a surge of pass usage on powder days,” Hanle said.

Business strong across country

Across the country, the ski industry is doing well, said Michael Berry, president of the Denver-based National Ski Areas Association. Ski resorts in the eastern U.S. are doing significantly better than last winter, when snow was sparse. Some ski area operators say this season ranks in their top three over the last decade, Berry said.

Midwest ski resorts also are doing well on the strength of a snowy winter. Resorts in California, Oregon and Washington have an abundance of snow and the promise of a long ski season, Berry noted.

“In the last two weeks they’ve had too much of a good thing,” he said of the heavy snow that has hampered travel.

Berry said the resorts in the “destination West” areas such as Colorado and Utah suffered from a lack of snow in November but are bouncing back because potential customers are well aware of snow conditions. He believes they will make up the loss of business from the early season slump.

“It’s a touch too early to say if it’s going to be a record year,” Berry said.

The record of 58.9 million skier and rider visits was set in 2005-06. Last winter, there were 55.01 million skier and rider visits.

Questions remain for Skico season

The Skico brass budgeted for a “modest” 1.5 percent increase in skier visits this season. Hanle said they haven’t altered that forecast.

They will make their projections by aggressively marketing the rest of the season. Some business leaders are worried about “soft” periods in late February and early March, based on advance bookings.

The latest occupancy report compiled by the Aspen Chamber Resort Association won’t be out until later this week. It will show how future weeks are shaping up.

Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, a central bookings agency, said the advance reservations through that organization have not improved recently.

Stay Aspen Snowmass historically handles about 5 percent of lodging reservations.

“I can tell you that here at central reservations, we have slipped further backwards these past couple of weeks, so I am very interested to see whether this is a trend mirrored by the properties, or if the trends we are seeing are an anomaly,” he said.

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