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Late snow no help for Skico

A late flurry of snow and tourists couldn’t save the holiday season for the Aspen Skiing Co.

Business on the slopes dropped significantly during the Christmas and New Year’s Day period compared to last season. The drop came despite a Dec. 20 snowstorm and a late rush of lodging reservations.

“From a business standpoint, the holidays weren’t all that great,” said Skico Senior Vice President John Norton. “We were down low double digits.”

The percentage drop in business was in the teens, Norton further explained.

Skico executives figure poor publicity about the lack of early-season snow was responsible for the holiday blues. A storm five days before Christmas brought 8 to 13 inches of snow and dramatically improved conditions, but it was too late to help boost numbers, said Norton.

The holiday malaise was looking even worse for a while. The Aspen Chamber Resort Association’s latest survey of member lodges estimated occupancy at 87 percent for the holidays, but that number likely improved, according to an industry expert.

“We had a lot of last-minute bookings,” said Bill Tomcich, director of Aspen Central Reservations. There were even a couple of walk-in reservations made right before Christmas Day – something unheard of in typical years.

It will be difficult to gauge how retail shops and restaurants fared until city of Aspen sales tax reports for the holiday period come out.

Word within the skiing industry was that Summit County resorts took a worse beating, with declines as great as 25 percent, said Norton.

The holiday period, though short, can dictate how the season goes for many businesses. Norton said it will be difficult for the Skico to make up its double-digit loss from the holidays in January, February and March.

The goal, and expectation, is to avoid losing more business during those months, he said.

“The good news is there was so much no-snow talk before the holidays that people are now going home and saying, `You know, conditions really aren’t that bad,’ ” said Norton.

The Skico is running advertisements in USA Today and other publications to help spread that word. At least a small amount of snow has fallen every day in 1999.

January and February are currently down in advance bookings of guest nights made through Aspen Central Reservations, according to Tomcich. March is up compared to bookings made at this point last season.

Locals found pretty good snow conditions and uncrowded slopes by last weekend. Skiers on Aspen Mountain were treated to powdery shots on places like Jackpot, throughout Bell Mountain and the Dumps. They could ski up to the gondola, Bell Mountain and the Ajax Express lifts without lines.

Despite improving snow conditions, Buttermilk is the only one of the four Skico mountains coming close to its projected visitor numbers, said Norton.


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