No room at the inn — Aspen’s tourist accommodations full, big days expected on slopes through Saturday

Scott Condon and Erica Robbie
The Aspen Times
Passengers wait for their luggage to arrive at Aspen-Pitkin County Airport on Wednesday. Occupancy in tourist accommodations was expected to reach its peak Wednesday night.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

Hotels and other tourist accommodations are full. Aspen Skiing Co. expects the busiest day on the slopes in one of the next three days. Restaurants are telling patrons to expect waits of at least two hours without advance dinner reservations. Shopkeepers are reporting brisk sales.

Yep, it’s prime time in Aspen and Snowmass.

The occupancy rate in tourist accommodations in Aspen and Snowmass climbed for 12 successive days starting Dec. 16, according to Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, a central reservations agency. They reached the peak Wednesday night and will remain at that level through Saturday.

The reservations on the books as of Dec. 15 created a 96 percent occupancy rate in Aspen and 92 percent rate in Snowmass Village, Tomcich said. Last-minute bookings undoubtedly boosted those numbers higher, he said.

“For all practical purposes, we’re all sold out through New Year’s Eve. Basically, all that’s left now is crumbs.” — Bill Tomcich, Stay Aspen Snowmass

“For all practical purposes, we’re all sold out through New Year’s Eve,” Tomcich said. “Basically, all that’s left now is crumbs.”

Aspen Skiing Co. uses the occupancy reports to gauge when the waves of travelers will hit the slopes. The peak day is typically Dec. 31, according to Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle. However, with the lodges full, the peak day on the slopes could come whenever there is a bluebird day, he said.

The forecast is favorable for big days on the slopes Thursday and Friday. The National Weather Service’s forecast for Aspen calls for 36 degrees and sunny today and mostly sunny and 39 degrees Friday. There’s a chance for snow Saturday.

“I can’t tell you when the peak is until it happens,” Hanle said.

Peak day over the holidays typically means more than 11,000 skiers and snowboarders at Snowmass, the busiest of Skico’s four ski areas.

Skico is ready for the crowds. It has 5,244 acres open across it four ski areas. That’s 96 percent of available terrain.

The walk-up price for a single-day lift ticket topped out at $159. Advanced purchases reduced the price by amounts that vary with the number of days purchased.

From ski shops and pizza joints to luxury retail and high-end restaurants, every downtown Aspen business interviewed by The Aspen Times on Wednesday said business is bustling this holiday season. In fact, several managers reported record-breaking sales this season, while others said business is substantially up from last winter.

Hamilton Sports manager Emily Ernst said the 20-year-old ski shop’s sales Dec. 23 set a store record.

“We’ve never been so busy, ever,” Ernst said.

She noted that sales for women’s outerwear have more than doubled last year’s figures.

The store’s gross sales are about 30 percent up from last year, according to Greg Ernst, a partner at Hamilton Sports.

“I think it’s good for all of town,” he said. “Small businesses are the ones who need it the most. When business is good, locals get excited.”

Greg Ernst estimated that the spike in holiday sales started around Dec. 17 or 18.

New York Pizza manager Emily Van Amburgh said the popular pizza place, which was packed around 4 p.m. Wednesday, is “absolutely maxed.”

“This has been our busiest year,” Van Amburgh said. “And the holidays are insane.”

White House Tavern general manager Helen McIntyre said the restaurant’s wait lists have hit times of as long as 21/2 hours as of late. The restaurant’s sales this holiday season are up about 20 percent over this time last year, she said.

“We really picked up — I mean like really picked up — three or four days before Christmas,” McIntyre said Wednesday. “Yesterday and today have been by far the most busy, which is great. We love that.”

Pitkin County Dry Goods manager Petra Gregory said the store’s busiest time is always between Christmas and New Year’s and that this holiday has been “busier than last year.”

This week could be busier than normal during the holidays. When Christmas and New Year’s Day fall on a Sunday, it means the week before Christmas is quieter than normal and business is compressed between the holidays, according to resort veterans.

Occupancy in Aspen’s tourist accommodations falls off starting Jan. 1. Snowmass is looking at a stronger week than usual Jan. 1 to 7 because of a large conference, Tomcich said.