First half of Aspen’s season great for skiers, good for tourism |

First half of Aspen’s season great for skiers, good for tourism

Frank Shine/Aspen Skiing Co.A skier samples fresh powder last week on Aspen Mountain.

ASPEN – The 2010-11 ski season passed the half-way point Tuesday with the first half receiving good but not great marks from tourism officials.

The Aspen Skiing Co.’s skier visits were up 7 percent through Dec. 31 over the start of the prior season, but business faded a bit last month. “January was not as strong overall as we had hoped,” said Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle.

Don’t blame the snow. Although warm weather has kept the Roaring Fork Valley floor free of snow throughout much of the season, it’s a different picture on the mountains. The snowpack above 9,000 feet in elevation has generally ranged between 25 and 40 percent above average in the Aspen area. All skiers but the most fussy have agreed ski conditions have been fabulous.

Aspen Mountain has recorded 144 inches of snow since Nov. 1 and Snowmass has recorded 172 inches, Hanle said. That is tracking slightly ahead of the pace that produces about 300 inches of snow per ski season. Other resorts report their snowfall starting in October, but the Skico thinks that is irrelevant since snow falling that early often melts, Hanle previously explained.

The snow depth reached 69 inches at the top of Snowmass this week and 46 inches at mid-mountain. One year ago, the depths were 54 at top, 35 at mid-mountain.

Powder pigs have rejoiced 16 days so far when there were 4 or more inches of snow at Snowmass and 12 days at Aspen Highlands, according to Skico’s records.

Lodging occupancies were a mixed bag in Aspen and Snowmass over the first half of the season. Occupancy in Aspen from November through January was down 1.4 percent compared to last season, according to Mountain Research Travel Program (MTRiP), a third-party organization that tracks occupancies in several western U.S. mountain resorts.

The average daily rate charged by tourist accommodations in Aspen was up 2.4 percent through January, MTRiP reported. It climbed from $420 per night last year to $430 this year.

Snowmass Village occupancy was up sharply through January, at 7.7 percent. The average daily rate charged there increased 8.8 percent, MTRiP reported. The rate increased from $316 per night during the first half of last season to $344 so far this season, the report said.

Combined, Aspen and Snowmass Village are “slightly ahead” of last season in occupancy at the half way point, said Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, a central reservations agency. The two resorts have continued a slow, steady recovery that started during the 2009-10 season after the bleak winter of 2008-09.

“Every measure we’re looking at is headed in the right direction, post-recession,” Tomcich said.

“January finished off with a bang over X-Games weekend peaking out with 96 percent occupancy in Aspen and 90 percent in Snowmass,” Tomcich wrote Feb. 10 in an occupancy report to the lodging community.

Special promotions are still needed to drive business, Tomcich said. Travelers are looking for deals – and ski resorts are providing them. Even so, the recovery from the recession will take time for the lodging industry.

“We’re not anywhere close to the occupancies we were running in 2007,” Tomcich said.

Looking ahead, there is a solid four-week period starting on President’s Day weekend, Feb. 19-21, and going into mid-March, he said. The middle of February is a “trough” that was expected because President’s weekend and Mardi Gras come later than last season, according to Tomcich.

One lodge operator noted recently that his business was stronger on Jan. 13 this year than it will be on Feb. 13. There were a lot of international travelers in Aspen during January, particularly from Australia.

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