Skier numbers down so far |

Skier numbers down so far

Janet Urquhart
Skier numbers may be down, but there's apparently been no dropoff in cell phone use at the base of the gondola. Encouragingly, one skier reached for a tall cool one instead of a phone. Aspen Times photo/Mark Fox.

Skier visits in Aspen/Snowmass so far are down about 10 percent compared to last ski season, but bookings at the resort were apparently up in December and one ski company executive is predicting numbers come April that will surpass last winter’s totals.David Perry, vice president of operations for the Aspen Skiing Co., offered several explanations for the decline in skiers and snowboarders on local slopes in the early going, including a prolonged dry spell following a Thanksgiving weekend storm. The next big dump didn’t arrive until last week.”Basically, it didn’t snow for most of December. What happens then is the locals don’t ski as much,” Perry said.In addition, strong early snows a year ago allowed the Skico to open up some of its terrain early, which helped boost skier numbers. That wasn’t the case this winter.Finally, Christmas and New Year’s Day both fell on Saturdays this season – the least desirable alignment of the holidays, Perry said. It basically shortens the vacation window to the two weekends and the week between them.Still, Perry said he’s expecting Aspen/Snowmass to exceed last season’s skier numbers by the time the lifts close in April, barring bizarre weather akin to last March’s heat wave which had people riding bikes in shorts instead of skiing.”I think we’ll comfortably surpass last year’s numbers,” he said.Last season, Aspen/Snowmass posted about a 1 percent gain in skier visits over the 2002-03 winter.While activity on the mountains is lagging, hotel and condo bookings are apparently up.The sale of ski packages in Aspen/Snowmass is up 11 percent for Aspen-based, while reservations made through Stay Aspen Snowmass, a local reservations agency, are “embarrassingly” strong.Overall business for is essentially flat so far this winter, despite the jump in business at Aspen/Snowmass, according to Mark Uhlfelder, vice president of – formerly Aspen Ski Tours – offers tour packages, including lodging, travel and lift tickets, at about 30 resorts in the United States and Canada, primarily in the West. The agency has sold a ski vacation package in Aspen/Snowmass to almost 9,000 people so far this season, compared to 8,000 people by this time last winter, Uhlfelder said.”If Aspen is up 11 percent and we’re only up 1 percent or so [overall], obviously somebody’s down,” he said. “What it means is, Aspen/Snowmass is having a good year statistically. Other resorts are not having as good a year, according to our bookings.”Uhlfelder declined to discuss specific booking information for other resorts.Stay Aspen Snowmass, a local reservations agency that handles about 6 percent of the resort’s overall bookings, has seen strong numbers so far this season as well, but President Bill Tomcich declined to elaborate on just how much sales are up.”We’re way up – we’re having a spectacular year,” he said. “It’s almost embarrassing to say how much. Strong double-digit increases.”The agency’s redesigned website and an online booking system may get some of the credit for the upswing, Tomcich said.Actual occupancy numbers for the month of December aren’t yet available, but Aspen/Snowmass was 95 percent to 96 percent full during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, he said. With the two holidays falling on Saturdays, though, the resort was bursting at the seams for two or three nights as opposed to four or five.”Occupancies will be up for the entire month of December – for both Aspen and Snowmass,” Tomcich predicted.A record day in TellurideTelluride set a new record on its mountain last Thursday, with 7,763 people hitting the slopes after a storm dumped 10 inches of fresh powder. There were lift lines – an anomaly in Telluride, said Maryhelyn Kirwan, the resort’s communications director.”There’s never been this many people on our mountain before,” she said. Skier visits are up about 5 percent so far this season in Telluride, Kirwan said.Sun Valley was expecting its total skier count to reach approximately 91,000 by the end of December – close to last year’s pace, according to a report in the Idaho Mountain Express.A Vail Resorts spokesperson wasn’t discussing skier numbers before the company’s quarterly report is released, but the Vail Valley Chamber and Visitors Bureau saw about a 17 percent drop in holiday bookings, according to Ian Anderson, director of communications.That doesn’t mean December occupancy wasn’t up, though, he stressed. Reservations logged by the bureau could be down because there weren’t many rooms available for it to book. Individual hotel operators and retailers said holiday business was up; the final occupancy numbers for the month aren’t yet out, Anderson said.The bureau handles less than 10 percent of overall reservations in the valley, which encompasses Vail and Beaver Creek.Breckenridge was pretty much packed for the holidays, according to Kristen Petitt, director of public relations for the Breckenridge Resort Chamber.”It was like Christmas – no pun intended,” she said.A survey of Breck’s major hotel properties indicates the resort was 95 percent to 98 percent full during the week after Christmas, but Petitt wouldn’t comment on overall bookings so far this season, except to note they’re outpacing last winter’s numbers.Beaver Run Resort in Breckenridge, a 500-unit property that includes everything from hotel rooms to condos, is having its best winter in four years, said Bruce Horii, director of sales and marketing. December bookings were up 7 percent, he said.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is

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