Is it busy in Aspen? It sure does seem like it is |

Is it busy in Aspen? It sure does seem like it is

Leigh Vogel/The Aspen Times

Over the past few weeks, finding an available daytime parking spot in the heart of downtown Aspen has proven difficult.

Pedestrians are everywhere, holding up traffic by crossing streets in spite of electronic signals that tell them to wait. Accident-wise, near-misses abound, whether bicyclist versus car or car versus pedestrian or car versus car.

The area is renowned for its adventure sports, but getting into and out of the Shell station at Main and Galena streets to buy a few gallons of gas can be an adventure in itself.

It might not be the busiest summer in Aspen’s history, but on certain days, it sure feels like it.

“I came to Aspen for a few weeks of peace and to enjoy the gorgeous scenery,” said Missy Harrison, a Denver-area resident who is staying with friends in the West End. “I’m having a terrific time, but the ‘peace’ part of my plan has eluded me. I come here every few years, and I’ve never seen it this crowded.”

Harrison said she has sought solitude away from town, going camping at Ruedi Reservoir and hiking on the Lost Man Trail up Independence Pass. Everywhere she goes, she runs into the same issue: people, people, people.

“I don’t want to seem whiny; I’m a visitor, too, and part of the congestion,” she added. “It’s just an unexpected aspect of my trip. It doesn’t mean I won’t want to come back.”

Though it’s impossible to say exactly how many people are in town, one way of estimating suggests there were about 18,400 residents and visitors here on Saturday. That’s roughly three times the official population of Aspen.

That figure is rooted in the amount of sewage flowing into the city’s wastewater-treatment plant. Dividing Saturday’s total number of gallons, 1.8 million, by 98 — the standard assumed production of wastewater per person, per day, in gallons — produces a loose estimate of the number of people in town.

Using that same measure, Aspen contained fewer people on the Saturday of the same week last year: 17,500. But if the calculations are to be trusted, there were more people here on the same Saturday in 2007: about 19,400.

A more accurate way of gauging Aspen’s busyness would be to examine the data in the city’s monthly consumption tax report, which breaks down retail sales in several categories: accommodations, restaurants and bars, clothing, liquor, food and so on. But the report for June won’t be released until August, and the July figures won’t be posted until September.

Bill Tomcich, president of reservations firm Stay Aspen Snowmass, assessed the situation simply.

“It’s packed,” he said.

Whether this summer season is the busiest ever is doubtful, Tomcich said, but time will tell. The city hasn’t even gotten to the midpoint of the season yet.

“I’d say we haven’t been this busy in a long, long time,” he said. “You go back to yesteryear, when we had more hotels in town, certainly we had more people, at least as it relates to overnight tourist accommodations.

“It doesn’t feel like we could accommodate that many more people in town right now because it sure does feel busy.”

A hotel-lodge-occupancy analysis from DestiMetrics (formerly known as the Mountain Travel Research Program) released Thursday shows that booked room nights were down in Aspen during June but higher in Snowmass Village compared with the same month last year.

June started slow in Aspen and ended on a strong note, Tomcich said. There were four nights in June in which average occupancy exceeded 90 percent. The occupancy rates on Fourth of July weekend also were higher than 90 percent.

Overall occupancy last month in Aspen was 55.4 percent, a 10.2 percent decrease from 61.6 percent in June 2012. Snowmass Village’s occupancy was 28.4 percent in June, a 6 percent increase compared with 26.8 percent in the same month a year ago.

As for July, hotel occupancy is pacing slightly behind last year, about 2 percent less, Tomcich said.

“Keep in mind last year was a really strong July for Aspen,” he said. “And most of the softness in July is already behind us, coming in the week following the Fourth of July. If you look forward to the rest of the month, there’s not a single night between now and July 31 where Aspen occupancies are below 60 percent.”

At a recent Aspen Chamber Resort Association board meeting, lodge operators described the summer as “good but not full,” Tomich said.

Tomcich said he would edit that statement to say, “very good but not quite full,” and added that overall business in Snowmass Village this summer is “excellent compared with last year, but still lots of rooms left to sell.”

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