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High season gets here, finally

Although Aspen resembled a ghost town for most of January and half of February, business leaders say the prospects look better for the next several weeks.

The Aspen Skiing Co. reported that its kids ski school had its busiest week of the season last week, the Skico reports that tourist visits are up for the season, and lodging properties anticipate being busy through March.

“I think it’s going to be busy in town,” said Joe Raczak, general manager of the North of Nell Condominiums. “Everybody I talk to thinks it’s going to be hearty up until April 1.”

It’s about time, say hoteliers. At a recent meeting of the Aspen Lodging Association, occupancy reports were shared that showed business at Aspen tourist accommodations were down compared to last season for much of January.

December wasn’t all that great, either. Tourists accommodations in Aspen posted less than a 1 percent gain from December 1999.

“This is the first week since Christmas that was up from last year,” said Raczak of overall business for Aspen properties. “January was a bust all over town.”

The Aspen Skiing Co. is counting on strong business in March to maintain its current increase in tourist skier and rider visits. Skico spokeswoman Rose Abello said Aspen Highlands is up “a lot,” Snowmass is “up,” Buttermilk is “flat” and Ajax is “down.” The privately held company won’t disclose specific numbers until after the season.

Business in February received a boost this season because Presidents’ Day weekend and Mardi Gras fell on different weeks. As a result, both weeks are strong rather than one week booked to capacity.

Abello attributed Aspen Highlands’ gains to further development of its base village and the popularity of the expert terrain.

“There’s definitely a buzz about Highland Bowl,” she said. “People are really digging it.”

Ski resorts throughout Colorado reported strong business for Presidents’ Day. The holiday weekend triggers a seven-week period that often makes or breaks the ski industry.

“My guess is we’re close to parity with late February and March last year – and that was a pretty strong period for us last season,” said Skico Chief Operating Officer John Norton.

He said the Skico relies on occupancy reports from the Aspen and Snowmass resort associations for their best guess of what to expect for coming weeks.

Reports from the Aspen Chamber Resort Association show actual occupancy for the week of Feb. 4 was 5 percent below last season; tied for the week of Feb. 11; and expected to be close to or above last year’s levels for the weeks of Feb. 18 and 25.

Reservations on the books are trailing last year’s levels for March, but late bookings typically close that gap.

Snowmass Village is finally matching historic levels of occupancy for the weeks of Feb. 17 and 24, according to reports by the resort association there. The occupancy forecast for the week of Feb. 17 was 84 percent compared to an average the prior three years of 86 percent.

The forecast for the week beginning Feb. 24 is 80 percent compared to a three-year average of 83 percent.

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Posted: Monday, February 26, 2001


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