September surging in Snowmass, occupancy up with new local events, old staples | AspenTimes.com

September surging in Snowmass, occupancy up with new local events, old staples

A town marketing push to boost tourism combined with an organic, local effort to up Snowmass' fun factor is shaping September into one of the more popular months in the village.

Along with hosting three of the summer's longest-standing summer traditions — the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience, the Snowmass Wine Festival and the Snowmass Balloon Festival — September boasts a slew of newer events that aim to add vibrancy during what used to be a sleepier time in town.

From 2013 to 2017, occupancy in Snowmass Village during the month of September has jumped from 21.2 percent to 48.8 percent, according to Snowmass Tourism marketing director Virginia McNellis.

Snowmass' revenue per room — a common industry metric also known as "RevPAR" — has tripled across those four years, McNellis said.

"Snowmass is changing. It will not be called 'Slowmass' for much longer. That's not good enough," said local resident and restaurateur Dave Dugan, who last fall launched a new festival, Septemberfest, to celebrate and get folks together.

Dugan, who has played a key role the past couple of years helping grow the ski area's closing day events, said, "While no one wants to see (Snowmass) turn into a bustling place … there's got to be more of a balance."

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Others, like longtime local and business owner Reed Lewis, are following Dugan's lead.

This weekend in Snowmass is a perfect example, with three festivals old and new — the 43rd annual balloon festival, Lewis' inaugural Cidermass and Dugan's second annual Septemberfest — stacked up on Saturday alone.

Hot air balloons in the morning followed by a wildly successful turnout at Septemberfest's debut last year left a lull in the afternoon that Lewis will fill with crisp, bubbly cider samples.

"I thought this will help, mid-day, to kind of piece it all together so it flows from one event to the next," said Lewis, who runs Daly Bottle Shop on the Snowmass Mall.

Set up along the mall from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Cidermass will offer hard cider tastings from dozens of local and national vendors. Tickets to Cidermass cost $25 if purchased in advance or $30 day-of.

"I just felt like one of the things that works up here are events where people can sample," Lewis said, pointing to Snowmass' wine and beer festivals as examples. "And cider is already exploding, I just felt it was a really good fit, especially in the fall."

Septemberfest, slated from 4 to 7 p.m. in Base Village, will cap off an eventful day in Snowmass Village.

Dugan said the number of people who showed up to the inaugural festival in 2017 — in spite of the cold, rainy weather — far exceed his expectations.

He estimated that Septemberfest saw 1,500 to 2,000 visitors throughout the day and around 1,000 people at its peak.

"If it had been a nice beautiful day, we would've been in trouble," Dugan quipped.

He expects an even larger turnout this year, adding, "I think it's going to be crazy, in a good way."

Like last year, the family-friendly festival will feature a marketplace with local vendors, restaurant booths, children's activities, sake and wine tastings.

New to this year's lineup are pony rides, craft beer vendors and live music by the local Derek Brown Band.

The festival is free to attend, but donations to the event's beneficiary, Challenge Aspen, are encouraged. Donation jars will be placed at the vendor booths and proceeds from the raffle — as well as a portion of the revenue from all of the Base Village restaurants during the event — will benefit Challenge Aspen.

Along with Snowmass locals and visitors, Dugan said, "We want to get (Roaring Fork Valley) residents motivated to come."

Snowmass Tourism spokesperson Sara Stookey said the marketing team is "seeing a rise in September as one of our most popular summer months for visitors, both new and returning."

Spanning early Friday to Sunday morning, the Snowmass Balloon Festival attracts thousands of visitors who will watch more than 90,000 cubic feet of rip-stop nylon and a massive wicker basket transform into a sea of bright colors that stamp Snowmass' skyline. In recent years, Snowmass Tourism added a Saturday night jazz-band glow show choreographed to the movement of glowing balloons.

erobbie@aspentimes.com