Early Easter means tourism dwindles in Aspen
Roaring Fork Valley skiers and snowboarders might be hoping for an endless ski season but tourism is coming to a quick close after an early arrival of Easter, according to lodging industry officials.
The average occupancy for Aspen’s lodging industry fell from more than 80 percent last week to 60 percent this week, according to Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, a central bookings agency. It will slide to about 40 percent the second week of April and 20 percent for the last week of the ski season, he said.
While one lodging official said at the Aspen Chamber Resort Association meeting Tuesday that business is falling off a cliff after Easter, Tomcich considers it more of a steady taper.
Aspen Mountain closes April 17.
The plunge will be quicker at Snowmass, where the slopes close April 10. Aspen Highlands also is scheduled to close April 10 while Buttermilk will call it quits April 3 with Bacon Appreciation Day.
When Easter falls in March, it compresses the end of ski season, according to Ralf Garrison, director of DestiMetrics, a company that measures occupancy and bookings trends at mountain resorts in six Western states.
“Easter is the psychological end of the season” for most overnight visitors to destination resorts like Aspen-Snowmass, he said, much like Thanksgiving is the psychological beginning of the season.
So even though conditions are great and holding steady at many Rocky Mountain resorts, most destination visitors already ruled out late-season stays, Garrison said. But second-home owners, local residents and even regional residents are well aware of the great late conditions and “can be lured up to the mountains past Easter,” he said.
Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman Jeff Hanle said some Denver-area Classic Pass holders who still have days left will be willing to venture up to Aspen because of the conditions. Realistically, valley residents will be fueling most visits to the slopes here on out, he said.
“With the (projections) I’m looking at, we’re not expecting huge numbers,” Hanle said.
Skico previously said locals’ pass use it up this season, thanks to good early season snow, bluebird days in February and more snow in March.
Tomcich said winter resort tourism officials have noticed this season that travelers are more keenly in tune with snow conditions than ever. The phones stopped ringing when the snow stopped falling in February, even though conditions were great, he said. Calls picked up when snow resumed in March.
If Easter was later this year, business likely would have been strong into April. The lodging industry doesn’t like an early Easter because it can already fill beds with spring break crowds, Garrison said. Compressing demand into a shorter period usually drives prices up for the lodging industry, so that’s a good consolation, he said.
The optimal timing for Easter for many resorts would be the second week of April, Garrison said. Ski areas typically have good enough conditions into April to accommodate customers.
When Easter falls earlier, resorts must weigh how long it makes sense to stay open. At some point, they hit diminishing returns from the amount of business they can attract and the expense of staying open, Garrison said.
Having Easter fall in the second week of April also appeals to him because it would be easier to compare year-to-year occupancy reports. He’s considering writing the pope to ask for a mandatory April Easter, he quipped.
Skico’s Hanle said company officials are just starting to consider whether it makes sense to keep any of the ski areas open longer than scheduled. It depends on a variety of factors, including availability of seasonal workers, construction projects scheduled and snow conditions.
“Just because we have the snow doesn’t mean we’re going to do it,” Hanle said.
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