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Rooms, airline seats scarce as busy Christmas approaches

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Even if tourists can still find lodging for the holidays in Aspen, they may have a tough time getting home.

Airline seats are as hard to come by as condos.

Aspen will be busy next week and bursting at the seams for New Year’s week, judging from the bookings at everything from the resort’s smallest lodges to its largest luxury hotels.



“In fact, I would say, particularly the week of New Year’s ” the 27th to the third of January ” it’s going to be as full as we’ve seen it since the ’97-’98 ski season,” declared Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, a local reservations agency.

“If we had an unlimited supply of ski-in, ski-out condominiums, airline seats and four-wheel-drive rental cars, we could probably sell this resort three times over, based on the demand we’re seeing,” he said.




Stay Aspen Snowmass handles about 6 percent of the overall bookings in Aspen and Snowmass, but many individual properties are reporting similar demand.

“By September, we knew that we were way ahead of last year,” said Tony DiLucia, general manager at the Hotel Jerome. “Now that the economy is moving, people are taking their vacations again.

“Of course, the snow helps.”

“The whole winter is looking better than last year,” agreed Stan Hajenga at the Mountain Chalet.

The 59-room lodge is full from Dec. 26 through Jan. 2.

In fact, the Mountain Chalet, like the Jerome, has a waiting list from guests still hoping to secure lodging during the holiday crunch.

Many hotels and lodges are close to full next week and completely booked right after Christmas.

The nine-room Chalet Lisl has a few rooms left next week and fills up on Dec. 26.

“I think people like to spend Christmas at home, then they take off,” said owner Carol Blomquist. “The winter is looking good. January is absolutely full.”

At the 20-room Holland House, the entire winter is looking up.

“February and March are looking really strong. I’m optimistic,” said Yasmine dePagter, whose family runs the Holland House. “It’s looking more toward how it looked in ’98, ’99 ” those glory years when we actually made money,” she said with a grin.

Comparisons to last winter aren’t terribly telling, lodge operators agreed.

Aspen enjoyed a strong holiday season in 2002-03, but things took a nose dive after President George W. Bush announced the United States would go to war with Iraq during his State of the Union address in late January.

“When the State of the Union came out, everything just stopped in its tracks,” recalled Molly Campbell, general manager of The Gant.

This year, the 120-unit condo complex was looking at 90 to 95 percent occupancy for Dec. 20-24 by the end of last week. The Gant is on track to be full or nearly so for New Year’s week.

For the rest of the winter, bookings are tracking about 10 percent ahead of last year’s pace, Campbell said.

Reservations for both the holidays and winter overall are up about 13 percent at most resorts, including Aspen/Snowmass, according to Mark Uhlfelder, vice president of sales for Ski.com/Aspen Ski Tours. The agency books ski vacation packages at 25 resorts around the West.

“We’re really pleased,” he said. “Last year was not a good year for anyone in this industry.”

The St. Regis, Aspen’s largest hotel with 257 rooms, is traditionally full right after Christmas and will be again this year, according to Richard McLennan, general manager. In the days before the holiday, reservations are up about 10 percent.

The Little Nell’s 92 luxury rooms are booked from Dec. 19 through New Year’s and reservations for the rest of the winter are up, reported John Egelhoff, director of sales and marketing.

Visitors hoping to rent a house in Aspen for New Year’s week are probably out of luck unless they’re in the market for a very high-end property, according to Ron Erickson, whose Aspen Resort Accommodations books lodges, condos and houses.

The three- to five-bedroom homes that go for about $1,500 a night are long gone, Erickson said.

“If you want a $6,000-a-night house, I can probably get it for you for $3,500,” he added.

Getting out of town will be the bigger trick.

From Jan. 1-6, virtually every outbound airline seat flying out of both Aspen and Eagle County has been sold, according to Tomcich.

Airlines serving both airports have added flights for the Jan. 2-4 weekend, and those have sold out, as well.

Some visitors have responded by lengthening their stays.

“It’s actually causing people to extend their vacations,” he said.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]


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