Lack of ‘big’ snow has few holiday effects for I-70 resorts
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. – What area ski resorts lack in holiday snowfall, they make up for with their reputations, according to ski industry insiders.
Most ski areas in Summit and Eagle Counties were pushing to get even 50 percent of their skiable terrain open for the holiday week. Combine the thin snow with the new trend of last-minute vacation bookings, and that could spell trouble for a tourist-based economy.
But the long-term reputation for snow is typically what drives destination guests to book vacations, said Ralph Garrison, a consultant with Advisory Group Inc., a travel marketing research company. And the snow was fairly abundant during the holiday season in Summit County in previous years.
“Overall, I’m seeing reservations well ahead of last year,” said Paul Connelly, owner of the Mountains USA reservations booking service in Frisco. “Reservations are higher, but price points are lower.”
Vail Resorts’ flagship properties, Arrabelle at Vail Square and Crystal Peak Lodge in Breckenridge, were sold out for the New Year holiday.
Connelly said his December lodging bookings were about average, relative to the last 10 years.
Destination guests who come for the holidays – the most expensive weeks of the year – typically make their reservations before Thanksgiving, when it’s too early to know how the snowpack will shape up.
Connelly has seen a marked increase in last-minute bookings this year, though.
“Yesterday, we did a reservation for someone who was arriving today. Some of the best deals are the furthest out, but then (lodging businesses) are dumping stuff cheap at the last minute so they don’t have vacancies,” Connelly said.
Connelly hasn’t heard much concern over low snow totals from his clients, but snow can be a bigger factor in February and spring-break reservations.
“Unless we get some more snow soon, we’ll see an impact, especially if this late-booking trend continues,” he said.
If tourists are able to find last-minute lodging deals, they may base their destination decisions on which ski areas have the biggest bases.
The good news is that many mega-resorts outside central Colorado – excepting Canada’s Whistler Blackcomb – haven’t had big early season snow, either.
Some smaller resorts, like Wolf Creek, have gotten huge storms, but it’s hard to compare small ski areas to the bigger resorts, because they attract different kinds of guests, Garrison said.
Lack of snow could potentially put a dent in day-skier numbers, since Front Range residents and others within driving distance of the slopes tend to track snow totals more closely. If Summit County gets a big storm one weekend and Vail and Beaver Creek miss out, Front Rangers are less likely to head to Eagle County, Garrison said.
When destination skiers and boarders head home, they talk about their trips. If the word on the street back in New York or Chicago is that the experience wasn’t so great around Christmas, people are less likely to book for the next high season in March, Garrison said.
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Eagle County will go to Stage 2 fire restrictions Friday, joining Pitkin County and other state and federal lands in the area.