Snow ‘hangover’ may be haunting skiers and riders | AspenTimes.com

Snow ‘hangover’ may be haunting skiers and riders

ASPEN – Skiers and riders apparently are waiting to see how the snow gods treat western U.S. resorts this winter before booking vacations.

As of Sept. 30, reservations for the next six months are about even with the same period last year at 16 mountain destination resorts in Colorado, Utah, California and Oregon, according to the Mountain Travel Research Program (MTRiP), a company that tracks reservation trends for the resorts.

However, the booking pace deflated in September, according to MTRiP Director Ralf Garrison. Bookings were down nearly 4 percent for the month at a time when activity should be starting to pick up. Reservations taken in September for arrival in October, November and February were up, but reservations for December, January and March were down.

Garrison speculated that winter-sports enthusiasts have a “snow hangover” from last season, when conditions weren’t so good. They are waiting to see how the winter shapes up before they commit.

David Perry, Aspen Skiing Co. senior vice president of mountain operations, reported similar trends in bookings in a recent presentation to the Pitkin County commissioners. As of Sept. 15, reservations between Thanksgiving and Christmas lag behind the pace of last year, he said. Bookings are strong from mid-January to late March, according to Perry.

He said skiers and riders want to know there is snow before they reserve early-season trips. Last winter made them shy to pull the trigger. Snowfall was less than 50 percent of average last season at the four ski resorts of Aspen-Snowmass, Perry said. After March 2, no snow fell for the month.

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Poor snow conditions rarely plague the ski industry across the country like they did last year. Skier visits were down 15.7 percent nationwide. They dipped to their lowest level since 1991-92.

Tom Foley, operations director for MTRiP, said there is plenty of time for the lodging industry to rack up a good winter.

“That’s really not a number for concern,” he said of the 4 percent decline in reservations made in September compared with the month the prior year. “By Sept. 30, we’re still pretty early in the booking season.”

Economic trends and the national election also will play a likely role in the bookings pace, Foley said. The economic indicators looked good in September. The Dow Jones industrial average was up 2.65 percent for the month. The Consumer Confidence Index vaulted to its highest level since February 2011. The unemployment rate fell below 8 percent for the first time since January 2009.

However, consumer spending slowed because people have little extra money to spend, Foley said.

Getting through the election on Nov. 6 could help calm consumers’ nerves. In 75 percent of midterm and presidential elections since at least the Reagan era, consumer confidence has gone up after the vote. Consumers feel better that the election is over, regardless of the outcome, Foley said.

Major stock indexes have risen 70 percent of the time after federal elections going back to 1928, Foley said. It’s not as dependent on who wins as it is on working past the election.

“Consumers do hold their breath going into an election because of uncertainty,” Foley said.

If that holds true this year, expect the reservations to start rolling in Nov. 7.

scondon@aspentimes.com