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Farewell to one of the finest seasons in memory

Aspen Times writer

Today we head into the last weekend of lift-served skiing in the 2003-04 season. It’s a good time to take a few final slushy turns and quaff a few apres-ski beers. As you do so, however, take a moment to consider a few things beside the skiing itself – though the skiing was great, at least until somebody flipped on the celestial microwave in mid-March.

The 2003-04 season was a watershed in several respects. First, there was a significant turnaround in visitation and sales tax receipts, the first such good news since before the dark days of late 2001. It may not be the end of the recession, but it’s certainly worth noting – and worth celebrating.

As reported this week, sales tax revenues jumped by 13 percent in February over the same month last year, and January posted a hefty gain as well. Both months, in fact, set new records in retail sales. Furthermore, despite that uncomfortably early thaw, the visitors seemed to keep coming throughout March. They may not have skied as much, but they were out on the streets shopping, eating in the restaurants and drinking in the bars.

In early March, the Aspen Skiing Co. reported that skier visits were up 5 percent, and hoteliers said more recently that March bookings remained strong, even through the heat wave. The numbers aren’t all in, of course, but 2003-04 should shape up to be a good year for Aspen businesses all around.

This success was due in no small measure to smart marketing, special events planning and risk-taking by the Skico and the city of Aspen. Concerts in the street, big-air and jibbing contests on the mountains, Spring Jam, the Budweiser Hi-Fi Series of concerts and, of course, the 2004 ESPN Winter X Games combined to make this season a memorable and successful one. This wasn’t Aspen’s first time hosting the X Games, and we’ve seen snowboarders performing high-flying tricks above the Gondola plaza before, but this was the first season when all the pieces seemed to merge in a well-orchestrated package that truly made Aspen happen all season long.

And then, of course, there was the snow. It started early, with a powder-plentiful opening day at Snowmass, and continued with solid coverage and periodic powder days that kept a near-constant smile on skiers’ and boarders’ faces.

We lost a good portion of that snowpack in the warm days of mid-March, and it continues to shrink with the rains of April, but at least it’s still snowing in the high country. We continue to hope for a healthy spring runoff that will make the rivers roar and fill the reservoirs.

Congratulations, Aspen. It was a good ski season. Now take a well-deserved rest.


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