Snow, not war, affecting visitors | AspenTimes.com
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Snow, not war, affecting visitors

Brent Gardner-Smith

It was Denver, not Baghdad, that mattered this week to visitors in Aspen.

Flights in and out of Aspen’s airport to Denver International Airport stopped Tuesday morning and resumed Thursday afternoon, preventing about 1,000 people from flying into Aspen as scheduled.

The 3 feet of snow that buried DIA on Tuesday and Wednesday stranded thousands at the airport and kept 24 scheduled flights from getting to Aspen.

The war in Iraq has had virtually no impact on Aspen’s tourism, according to tourism officials.

Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, a central reservations agency for the resort, said that he has 12 cancellations that were war-related. Of those, nine have come from international travelers. And of those, four came from travelers who couldn’t get out of Israel because the Tel Aviv airport was closed.

In turn, Tomcich said he has dealt with 20 cancellations from people who were scheduled to fly to Denver this week but had to make new arrangements because the airport was closed.

“But people are re-booking their visits for later in the season,” Tomcich said. “There is no question we have the snow.”

For the Aspen Skiing Co., the closure of DIA and I-70, did not have a large impact, as many skiers who found themselves stranded in Aspen decided to make the most of it.

“The people who have been trapped here have been skiing,” said David Perry, the Skico’s senior vice president of sales and marketing. “Obviously the blizzard disrupted travel plans immensely for people getting both in and out during our busy spring-break period. But overall, the effects have been minor.”

And the story was the same for Aspen Ski Tours, which books ski vacations for ski resorts throughout the west.

“I haven’t heard of anybody canceling because of the war,” said Mark Uhlfelder of Aspen Ski Tours. “The biggest thing has been this problem in Denver. That actually caused many more problems than the threat of war or the war itself.”

And Uhlfelder said it was hard to tell if the number of phone calls had dropped off at Aspen Ski Tours as a result of war in Iraq.

“There is no way you can tell,” he said. “We are a lot busier, but it is all customer-service issues.”

Uhlfelder feels in general that with a month left in the ski season, most skiers have already booked their spring trips. And if they have booked them, they are still planning to come.

As of Thursday afternoon, there had been no disruptions to air service in the United States as a result of the war. Some airlines, including United and Northwest, are allowing customers to reschedule flights without penalty. United, for example, is allowing customers flexibility for tickets issued for travel between March 18 and March 31.

In anticipation of the war, the Skico started planning in February to offer Colorado skiers an extra incentive to come to Aspen and Snowmass until April 20.

The company is offering three days of skiing for $49, or $16.30 a day, starting this Saturday. The “S Pass,” for spring pass, will be offered to guests who bring in a coupon from the Denver Post, Rocky Mountain News or Grand Junction Sentinel, or a picture ski pass from any year from any other ski resort.

The promotion will be supported by a marketing campaign using direct mail, radio, e-mail and newspaper advertising, according to Perry.

“It is a real blitz,” Perry said. “It is a very extensive campaign.”

The spring promotion was hatched when war with Iraq seemed imminent in February.

“We said we cannot just sit still and use hope as our business strategy,” Perry said. “We knew we would have to aggressively go into the marketplace.”

And the Skico’s campaign has gotten a big boost by the blizzard in Denver. Not only are folks along the Front Range going to be kept off golf courses by the recent snowfall, they are going to know that Colorado’s ski resorts have gotten lots of snow this week.

But while the snow may help boost the last month of the ski season, Tomcich said the biggest factor in regard to end-of-season visitors is the calendar.

“When Easter falls is still a bigger factor than the war, the economy, the snow or air service,” Tomcich said. “And this year, Easter is late.”

The holiday falls this spring on Sunday, April 20, the last day of the ski season. In years past, when Easter fell earlier in the month, families were more likely to schedule a ski vacation during the weeks before and after Easter Sunday, when schools typically schedule holiday time.


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