Ski season not as bad as expected |

Ski season not as bad as expected

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The 2001-02 ski season in Aspen/Snowmass started with a dismal outlook but ended on Sunday with a sigh of relief.

Local destination skier business is off about 4 percent from last season, said John Norton, chief operating officer for the Aspen Skiing Co.

“To say we are only 4 percent off with the slow start, the down economy and the war, well, minus 4 percent is great,” Norton said. “If we could have bought minus-4-percent insurance at the start of the ski season, we would have.”

As of Dec. 31, the Skico’s visits were off 15 percent, but strong business in February and March helped boost the numbers.

“I think Aspen can be really pleased,” said David Perry, president of Colorado Ski Country USA. “That 4 percent number is going to compare very well.”

And depending on how the final tally of season pass use adds up, the Skico may find that its skier days are off less than 4 percent compared to last ski season, when the company’s four area’s reported 1,349,051 skier visits.

In the 1999-00 season, the company did 1,324,304 visits, and during the 1998-99 season, it did 1,431,854 visits.

The 1997-98 ski season remains one of the strongest on the books for the Skico in recent years, with 1,559,386 skier days. The 1996-97 season saw 1,434,213 visits.

The Skico’s 4 percent drop in destination business this season is consistent with the lodging occupancy numbers reported by members of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association.

On average, lodge occupancy was down from December through March about 5 percent.

And like the national trend in the travel and tourism business, the winter in Aspen/Snowmass started slow and then got busier as the months ticked by.

“Coming into the winter we were way, way down, and the winter was looking pretty bleak,” said Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen/Snowmass, a central reservations agency for the resort. “We were down 34.4 percent at one point, and we are going to end up down about 11 percent.”

Tomcich said the resort saw less business from the Northeast region of the country this season, but did well in the Southeast thanks to a new Northwest flight from Memphis to Aspen.

“Our bookings from the Southeast are up over 100 percent, and I would only attribute that to our air access,” he said.

In Snowmass Village, retail and lodging sales through February are also down 11 percent, although March was about even with last year, said Brett Huske, Snowmass Village Resort Association’s acting president.

“Everybody got off to a slow start,” Huske said. “And a lot of us would have been excited about being only 11 percent down last December when we thought it was going to be twice that.”

At the Aspen Square, a condo hotel in downtown Aspen, the Christmas season looked very soft right up until the last minute.

“We were very concerned as we saw reservations about 30 percent below normal,” said Aspen Square general manager Warren Klug.

But the Christmas skiers came and went, and then the phones started really ringing in January.

“On balance, our year was down slightly from last year but not as much as we thought it would be,” said Klug.

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