Aspen Snowmass among resorts trying to battle ‘snow hangover’ from last winter | AspenTimes.com

Aspen Snowmass among resorts trying to battle ‘snow hangover’ from last winter

Low snow levels at many U.S. resorts last winter apparently has had a mixed effect on skiers' willingness to book vacations this winter, according to travel industry experts.

Stay Aspen Snowmass, a central reservations agency, reported Tuesday that bookings for both resorts are down by double digits in December and January but are up in February and March.

"January is mirroring December with occupancy rates in both resorts trending down for this winter," the report said. "Both February and March are looking solid with some nice increases over the prior year."

Western resorts as a whole have experienced a "cooling down" in the bookings pace, according to Innotopia, a company that produces a monthly report on lodging occupancy trends at 20 mountain destination resorts in Colorado, Utah, California, Nevada, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

Innotopia's report, called the DestiMetrics Market Briefing, said the booking pace for the next five months is trending slower than at this point last year. The hesitation on the part of some people to book vacations is "pretty typical" following a year where snowfall was lower than usual and slope conditions were "disappointing" in many parts of the West, according to Tom Foley, a senior vice president for Innotopia.

Travel industry veterans say people remember the prior season's snowfall and that often influences their decisions about vacations for the current winter. That's called the snow hangover effect.

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"The month of December, with occupancy currently down 8.9 percent, is struggling against both the 'snow hangover' from last season and a school holiday calendar that pushes back most school breaks to Dec. 22, making it difficult to capture bookings for earlier in the holiday period," Innotopia said Tuesday in a summary of its latest report.

But it's not all bad news on the early-season bookings front. Aspen-based Ski.com, the top ski vacation provider in North America, said it has experienced a 38 percent increase in reservations for trips with arrivals during the Christmas and New Year's holiday.

"We haven't seen the snow hangover effect like we thought we would," said Dan Sherman, Ski.com's chief marketing officer.

Aspen is among resorts trending the best for the holidays compared with last year's bookings through Ski.com.

Sherman said the ski industry is nearing "prime time" in the bookings period. Thanksgiving is considered the halfway point in the bookings season for the season as a whole, he said.

Stay Aspen Snowmass said the potential to improve on December occupancy exists because of the early trend for snowfall and colder temperatures. Skico.com's Sherman agreed.

"The snow message is out there. We're definitely seeing the volume pick up," he said.

Wolf Creek ski area in southwest Colorado got a jump on Arapahoe Basin and Loveland, two Front Range resorts that usually battle for bragging rights as the first in Colorado to open. Wolf Creek opened last week while A-Basin opens Friday.

Also blunting the snow hangover effect, Sherman said, is the fact that destination skiers must plan ahead. They know if they want to book during busy periods — Christmas/New Year's, Presidents weekend, spring break — they need to book early or risk higher prices for airfare and accommodations.

"We're working with destination skiers. Our average lead time is 80 days," Sherman said.

People who didn't take a vacation last season because of low snow are particularly eager to get out to the slopes this season.

"Skiing is part of their identity," Sherman said.

Aspen experienced fewer cancellations last season than many other resorts with travelers booked through Ski.com, according to Sherman. He believes that was because Aspen has a reputation for providing so many alternative activities.

Not all resorts fared as well. National skier visits declined 2.7 percent to 53.3 million last season, according to the Kottke National End of Season Survey 2017-18, undertaken by the National Ski Areas Association.

Even though visits were down 4.3 percent in the Rocky Mountain Region, it was the seventh-best on record for the region, the report said. However, 2017-18 ranked 23rd out of the past 40 seasons for the industry as a whole, the Kottke report said.

"Visitation nationally was comparatively strong in March and weak in other months," said the report, provided to The Aspen Times by NSAA. "Results at individual ski areas were mixed and variable."

About 51 percent of resorts reported a dip in skier visits while 46 percent reported gains and 3 percent were flat.

The drop was attributed to a decrease in natural snowfall of 29 percent nationally.

Despite the challenges posed last year by Mother Nature, the mood this fall in the ski industry is optimism, according to Sherman.

"There's a lot of buzz in the industry about Snowmass right now," Sherman said.

People are aware that Base Village is finally coming along and that the Limelight Hotel is opening this winter.

The battle between the Epic Pass, offered by Vail Resorts, and the Ikon Pass, offered by Alterra Mountain Co., which is related to Aspen Skiing Co., has also shaken up the industry. Both passes include numerous resorts in all sections of the country.

"Passes are good for the industry in general because they make the sport so accessible," Sherman said.

Ski.com has sold the Epic Pass for a decade. Some people want to buy a pass for "bragging rights," he said. Others are unaware of the option while some compare the financial implications of buying a pass instead of a multi-day lift ticket.

For some destination skiers, a season pass good at multiple resorts provides flexibility.

"Some people buy the pass early then decide which resort to visit" based on snow conditions, Sherman said.

Ski.com's advanced bookings are also strong for Europe and Japan. It's cheaper to fly from the East Coast to Europe than it is to Colorado, Sherman noted. And Japan has become popular because it gets "a ridiculous amount of snow," he said.

scondon@aspentimes.com

HOW THE SKI SEASON IS SHAPING UP

Stay Aspen Snowmass reported Tuesday that advance bookings for December and January are behind last season’s pace why February and March are trending ahead. A company called Innotopia, which assesses bookings trends for resorts throughout the West, reported similar findings for the early season.

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