Last season’s snow doesn’t seem so bad |

Last season’s snow doesn’t seem so bad

Aspen Skiing Co. officials were distressed last year when they could only open about half of Snowmass’ 3,010 acres for the busy week between Christmas and New Year’s.

Now – with an early-winter drought plaguing the area for the second straight season – they can only look back at last year with envy.

Only about 400 acres, or 13 percent of the total, were open at Snowmass this past weekend. The situation was slightly better at the Skico’s other three ski areas.

At Aspen Mountain, about 400 of 675 acres, or 60 percent, was open for the weekend, compared to 84 percent as of Dec. 31 last year.

Aspen Highlands had only 28 percent of the mountain open for the weekend, or about 188 of 675 acres. Last season at this time, 64 percent of the mountain was open.

Buttermilk had 57 percent of its 420 acres open, compared to 90 percent last season during this week.

Last season’s conditions were boosted by timely snowfall between Christmas and New Year’s. Even so, tourists went home and talked about the lack of snow. Snow conditions recovered later in the season, but business never did.

The season ended with an 8.2 percent decline in customer visits on the Skico’s slopes.

Lodge operators and other tourism industry officials fear history could be repeating itself this season, leaving many to shake their heads in disbelief.

“Lightning typically doesn’t strike twice,” said Skico Chief Operating Officer John Norton.

Since it has, the Skico is taking steps to cut costs.

Tuesday is expected to bring the biggest influx of tourists during the holiday period, according to Bill Tomcich, president of Aspen Central Reservations. But the latest occupancy reports from the resort associations of Aspen and Snowmass Village show business could be well below traditional levels for the holidays.

Other ski resorts in the state are reporting similar problems. Some are slashing holiday prices to entice visitors (see related story on page 5-A).

Snowmass Village Resort Association’s latest report showed that reservations as of Dec. 16 would create an occupancy of 61 percent for the week of Dec. 25-31, compared to a 90 percent average over the prior three seasons.

Reservations for Aspen properties would create an 81 percent occupancy compared to last year’s 87 percent mark for the same week, according to a Dec. 16 report by Aspen Chamber Resort Association.

The Skico is banking on impeccable jobs by its grooming crews to make up for Mother Nature’s shortfalls. “Getting off Aspen Mountain [Friday] I saw a lot of smiling faces,” said Norton.

He hopes a successful preseason sales program will also soften the blow of a lackluster season. The Skico sold more than 100,000 lift tickets for the season in a discount program that reduced the price of a lift ticket to $39 per day. Those tickets had to be purchased by Dec. 1, but they are good throughout the season.

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