Skier visits rise despite dry Jan. |

Skier visits rise despite dry Jan.

Lauren Glendenning
The Aspen Times
Skiers enter the gates at the Silver Queen Gondola last season. The pace for early winter bookings slowed in September compared to last year, however last September's early bookings were abnormally strong.
Karl Herchenroeder/The Aspen Times |

Despite an unseasonably warm and dry January, skier visits at the 21 member resorts of Colorado Ski Country USA were up 3.7 percent in January and February compared with the same period last year, the trade association announced Monday.

Melanie Mills, president and CEO of Colorado Ski Country USA, said in a statement that the steady pace of skier visits reinforces Colorado’s reputation as having consistent and reliable snow conditions.

The increase also rang true in Aspen, where Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman Jeff Hanle said numbers paced ahead of last year in January and February, which is known as the second period of the season. He said the pace over last year, which was a strong year, is currently in the low single digits. Skico’s four resorts are members of Colorado Ski Country.

“We had strong destination and international business in January and February that offset any falloff in season-pass use that may have resulted from the dry spells,” Hanle said in an email interview. “The skiing has been phenomenal all year despite the dry spells, and the snow has come at the perfect time when it has come. We have great momentum and expect to finish the year strong.”

Coveted destination guests

That destination business is exactly why Colorado is able to avoid major short-term weather impacts, according to Ralf Garrison, director of Destimetrics, a firm that analyzes mountain-resort economics. Destination visitors who come from afar book their trips well in advance, so short-term weather impacts have little effect on their travel plans. Resorts have invested heavily in their snowmaking systems and grooming operations, providing acceptable experiences for customers when natural snow is scarce, Garrison said via email. Destination visitors also enjoy the sunshine and other activities such as dining and shopping, he said, leaving most of the snow complaining to the more discerning local skiers.

The pace of reservations taken in February for the balance of the season at Western mountain resorts was down 11 percent compared with last year, leaving March flat compared with last year.

In Aspen, the booking pace is down about 1.6 percent for the rest of the season, while Snowmass is up 6.4 percent over last year, according to data released last week by Bill Tomcich, president of the central reservations firm Stay Aspen Snowmass.

Garrison said an early Easter this year is good news for April business, and that’s proving true for Aspen and Snowmass.

“And while the total number of folks in town will drop considerably after April 4, the second week of April through the 12th is now shaping up to be nearly twice as strong as this same week last year,” Tomcich’s report said.

The early season was pacing to be up about 14 percent in overall revenue at the Western mountain resorts that Destimetrics tracks, but Garrison said the new projection is that revenue will be up by about 11 percent.

“Still impressive, but less so than might have been,” he said.

Vail Resorts, which is not a member of Colorado Ski Country USA, reported 15.9 percent growth in skier visits across all of its resorts during the second quarter, which runs from early November through the end of January. The growth reported for Colorado Ski Country and Skico took place in January and February. Vail Resorts has resorts in the Lake Tahoe area of California as well as in Nevada, Utah, Colorado and the Midwest.

Snow hangover

As guests book their vacations for next year, there’s something Garrison refers to as “snow equity,” or a snow hangover, that affects booking decisions. What that means is that people tend to book their trips with last year’s conditions in mind, which should bode well for Colorado and the Rockies, as well as New England, for the 2015-16 ski season.

“California and the Pacific Northwest will likely suffer the consequences of negative snow equity once again and, with three successive years of similar patterns, is prompting some conjecture about when a prospective skier/boarder in the West gives up altogether,” Garrison said, adding that it’s “especially problematic in the West, where there are so many alternative recreational options.”

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