Holiday bookings on upswing in Aspen, Snowmass |

Holiday bookings on upswing in Aspen, Snowmass

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

ASPEN – Travelers were booking vacations in Aspen and Snowmass despite marginal early-season snow conditions, but Wednesday’s powder generated a buzz over the phone lines for at least one hotelier.

“The phones have actually been busy all morning,” said Jeff Bay, general manager at the Molly Gibson Lodge and Hotel Aspen. “People just needed to see that it’s winter.”

Snowmass was reporting 6 inches of fresh stuff early Wednesday morning, a welcome change from the zeros that have dominated the snow reports lately. Locals haven’t seen 6 inches in a morning report since Dec. 4. Aspen Mountain reported only an inch, but smiling skiers found a lot more than that – nearly all of the snow fell after the initial measurement was taken.

Across the two resorts, holiday-season bookings are up noticeably from this time last year, according to Bill Tomcich, president of local reservations agency Stay Aspen Snowmass.

“When you combine Aspen and Snowmass together, we are pacing ahead of last year every single night from now through New Year’s Eve and well into January with the lone exception of just two nights – Dec. 25 and 26,” he wrote in an email.

Several Aspen hotel operators said their establishments will be full or nearly so for the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Both holidays fall on Sundays. Dec. 29 is shaping up as the peak night, but overall, occupancy is hovering at 80 percent, so there are still rooms available, according to Tomcich.

The November report compiled by the Denver-based Mountain Travel Research Program, or MTRiP, projected bookings in Aspen would be up about 19 percent for the month of December compared with December 2010. Bookings made by the close of November put Snowmass ahead of last year’s pace for December by 8.5 percent, MTRiP said.

There are still rooms to be had next week at the Aspen Square Condo Hotel, according to general manager Warren Klug. Then things get tight.

“Right after Christmas, we’ll be essentially full,” he said.

The Mountain House Lodge, with 26 rooms, is 85 to 90 percent booked for the week after Christmas, general manager Branden Peck said. The lodge, geared toward the price-conscious, is already sold out for the Winter X Games in late January, he added.

The 123 condos available for short-term rental at The Gant were actually completely booked Wednesday, but general manager Donny Lee reported some availability next week before the complex fills up completely for the week after Christmas.

Some prospective guests have snow on their minds. With considerably more dry days than snowy ones so far this winter, callers are inquiring about snow conditions, hotel operators confirmed. On Wednesday, they had something to talk about.

Working in Aspen’s favor, Lee noted, are ski conditions elsewhere. Local slopes are holding their own by comparison.

“We’re kind of spoiled, but our ski conditions, compared to what’s going on with the rest of the country, are pretty good,” he said.

Snowmass, for example, has about half of its trails open. Deer Valley Resort in Utah was reporting 27 of 100 runs open Wednesday. Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont offered 16 of 116 trails.

Visitors aren’t complaining – and they weren’t even before Wednesday’s taste of powder, Klug said.

“Sure, it’s the groomers – you can’t ski the trees yet – but the guests are having a good time,” he said.

At the Hotel Aspen and Molly Gibson, bookings for December are up compared with the same month last year, and reservations so far for January and February are tracking slightly ahead of last winter.

“I think the early-season dearth of snow put a little damper on early December bookings,” said Bay, the general manager for the two properties. What’s shaping up to be a strong finish means the month will show gains over 2010 when the final numbers are in, he predicted.

December could cap a year of improvement for the tourist industry in Aspen. Hotel occupancy for the six-month period from June through November was up 5.3 percent compared with the same period last year, according to MTRiP. November alone saw about a 9 percent uptick in occupancy in Aspen.

The Aspen data is based on a sample of as many as 17 properties, representing as many as 1,326 lodging units, according to MTRiP.

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