Holiday hordes arriving in Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Holiday hordes arriving in Aspen

ASPEN ” Travelers will start rolling in to Aspen and Snowmass today, but the Tuesday holidays will delay the peak period until late next week, business leaders said.

The lodging industry expects occupancy to peak ” with a head on virtually every pillow ” on Thursday and Friday, Dec. 27 and 28. Aspen Skiing Co. officials expect the greatest numbers of skiers and riders to hit the slopes that weekend.

Restaurateurs look forward to diners filling their chairs for the next 10 nights.

Retailers face more of a crap shoot. They are counting on increased foot traffic this weekend, but good sales aren’t guaranteed just because people are in town. Sunny weather puts people on the slopes rather than the shops.

Booking patterns show many holiday guests will arrive this Saturday and Sunday, the two most popular travel days, followed by another wave on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“We’ll start ramping up now. Occupancy basically jumps 10 points a day (until Dec. 27-28), then gradually tapers off,” said David Perry, Skico senior vice president-mountain division. “The biggest day on the slopes will be the 29th and 30th.”

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Travel patterns are heavily influenced by school vacations. Many let out late this week. Return dates are divided between a couple days after New Year’s Day and the following week, Perry said. That determines how long people stay.

Bill Tomcich, president of the central bookings agency Stay Aspen-Snowmass, said Tuesday holidays aren’t bad, but they aren’t ideal.

“The biggest pattern shift I’m seeing with Christmas and New Year’s falling on a Tuesday is the week before Christmas, this week, is quite a bit softer than last year,” Tomcich said. “The week following New Year’s is going to be a lot busier as a lot of folks are extending their stays through the weekend of Jan. 5.”

Matthew Zubrod, chef and proprietor of Dish Aspen, said the majority of restaurants will scramble nonstop for the next week and a half starting tonight. “It’s the 10 busiest days of the year for us,” he said.

Zubrod said it can be stressful for restaurants that aren’t fully staffed or otherwise unprepared to offer top-quality service. Dish Aspen is sitting pretty because it recruited so well before winter started. Zubrod said he is turning job applicants away. Nevertheless, it can be a high-pressure time of the year.

“It’s a short time to really make your numbers,” he said.

This time of year makes or breaks many tourist-based businesses. Their performance over the holidays determines if they show a profit for the year.

The Skico is feeling pressure of a different sort this season. Warm and dry weather in November placed the phones on “pause” because travelers wanted to wait and see how conditions evolved before making early bookings, Perry said. When the snow piled up in December, the phones started ringing again.

The beds and slopes were going to be full regardless of the early winter weather, Perry said. The reservations for that period are made well in advance of the start of ski season. The dry November had an impact on reservations later in the season.

The warm, dry weather also hurt retail sales of everything from skis and snowboards to outfits. Sales by specialty stores declined 7 percent in August and October compared to the same period last year, SnowSports Industries America, a trade association for retailers and manufacturers, reported this week.

“Without much early season snow to entice people into the stores, total equipment sales slid 12 percent in both units and dollars,” SIA reported. “Apparel dollars came in 4 percent behind last season and equipment accessory sales fell 12 percent in units and 7 percent in dollars.”

SIA officials hopes that “excellent snow across the country in December” would make up for the slow sales in the fall.

For Aspen and Snowmass, it’s not a question of whether business will be strong at the holidays, but how strong and for how long.

Perry’s outlook was “very positive. It’s going to be a strong holiday.”

scondon@aspentimes.com