Ski season looks promising for Aspen Skiing Co. but, of course, there is the COVID wildcard
Advance reservations pacing ahead of two years ago
This week and into the first week of 2022, The Aspen Times will examine the issues and news events that defined the Aspen-area community in 2021, while also turning the lens to next year and what to watch for. Our 10-part series will show how the pandemic’s tentacles have and will continue to dip into our lives: skiing, tourism, development, mental health, labor shortages, business closings, housing shortages, a real estate boom, entertainment, and on and on.
It’s an all-hands-on-deck holiday period for Aspen Skiing Co., but there are fewer hands to staff the deck.
For the third straight winter, COVID-19 is having an impact on the ski season.
The 2019-20 season came to an abrupt halt when Colorado and most of the rest of the country went into lockdown in March 2020.
And then the 2020-21 season was dominated by adjustments — spacing in lift lines, decreased capacity on chairlifts, restrictions on indoor dining and masks, masks, masks.
This year, people are traveling again and yearning for outdoor experiences. At least, they are right now.
“Business volume is anticipated to be at or above 2019 — yes, pre-pandemic — levels starting this weekend,” Aspen Skiing Co. notified employees Dec. 18. “This will be an ‘all hands on deck’ holiday season.”
With New Year’s Day falling on a Saturday, the peak is expected the few days prior.
But the omicron variant is proving to be a very disruptive, unwanted guest. It is sweeping through the ranks of employees at Skico and nearly every other business in the valley.
“We’ve had a lot of staff go down quickly,” said Jeff Hanle, Skico vice president of communications.
“It’s peaking at exactly the wrong time,” he added.
The chronic worker shortage is being compounded by illnesses. Skico is asking its customers to be patient if service isn’t as fast as usual on mountain facilities.
If and how the pandemic will affect business levels this year is the great unknown. Skico was on pace in 2019-20 to eclipse its record number of skier visits from the season before until the lockdown ended the season March 20. That wiped out the final wave of spring break and a promising stretch of spring skiing.
Last season, international business all but evaporated for Skico, particularly from the lucrative Australia market. Aussies typically flood the slopes in January. Skico couldn’t offset the losses by bringing in more domestic skiers.
As a result, Skico’s skier visits were down about 3.5% from the prior, shortened season and down about 20% from its five-year average.
This winter holds a lot of promise — as long as COVID-19 doesn’t ruin the fun.
“We haven’t been seeing cancellations, really,” Hanle said. “Bookings for the rest of the year still look super solid.”
Reservations on the books as of Nov. 30 for the 2021-22 winter produce occupancy of 43.4% in Aspen and Snowmass Village, according to Stay Aspen Snowmass, a bookings agency operated by Skico. That is 4% better than two years ago at the same time and a whopping 96% better than last year.
January remains a weak spot because of the lack of international travelers. April also currently has fewer bookings than last year.
Expect a few curves to carve into the ski season, thanks to omicron.
A streambank stabilization project on the Crystal River just west of Marble is on hold after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined that the work undertaken this past summer fell outside what is allowed by the project’s permit.
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