Snowy season ending for Aspen, Snowmass |

Snowy season ending for Aspen, Snowmass

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
Michael Faas/The Aspen TimesTroy Selby makes a few turns in Kristi's on Aspen Mountain Monday morning.

ASPEN – Skiers and riders have been treated to powder days with four or more inches of fresh snow on 29 days this season at Snowmass and 23 days at Aspen Mountain. Chances are they might score more before the two ski areas close Sunday.

Snowmass has collected the most snow of the four local ski areas, tallying 316 inches so far this season since Nov. 1, according to the Aspen Skiing Co. Snow is forecast for Friday through Sunday.

Aspen Mountain will wrap up the 2010-11 campaign this weekend with special events both Friday and Sunday. The Silver Queen Gondola will continue to run until 6 p.m. Friday for lift-served skiing. The Sundeck will be open for a moonlight dinner starting at 5:30 p.m. The last download on the gondola is 9:30 p.m.

Aspen Mountain will host the fourth annual Schneetag (pronounced Sch-knee-Tog) on Sunday. Teams of four will create a craft that they will pilot down a slope by Bonnie’s Restaurant, negotiate a jump and attempt to float across a pond. The craft must be human-powered, less than 10 feet wide and weigh less than 400 pounds, including the pilot. Each team will pick just one person to “fly” across the pond.

Registration is free. Every team has a theme and will perform a skit before they descend. They are judged on costumes, creativity and flight distance across the pond.

The event is scheduled from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. but subject to change, so check lift boards. Top prize is a trip to the ESPN Summer X Games in Los Angeles. Second-place finishers get tickets to the Colorado Rockies.

No special events are planned for the weekend in Snowmass. Buttermilk closed April 3, and Aspen Highlands will remain open every day through Sunday, April 24.

The good snow allowed the Skico to continue rebuilding its business in the wake of the recession. “Skier visits are up over last year and in-resort spending continues to grow in our ancillary business units,” Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said. “Ski school and rental-retail have had strong seasons.”

The Skico reported its season-to-date skier visits were up 2 percent from the prior season at the end of February. Hanle didn’t have statistics through March but he said business for the month matched strong expectations. Mardi Gras and Carnival fell in March this year after occurring in February last year. The shift gave business a boost later this season.

Like the Skico, many lodging companies reported an increase in business during the season.

“The good news is it’s up a little bit,” said Chuck Frias, co-owner of Frias Properties, a real estate sales and luxury condominium rental company. “It’s not all doom and gloom. It’s getting better.”

December was strong, he said, but January and February were not. A strong March salvaged the winter.

“We were up more in occupancy than revenue because everybody has to discount,” Frias said. His firm manages more than 200 condos and 200 fractional units in and around Aspen’s core. Travelers are savvy shoppers who are comparing properties and resorts to find the best bargains, Frias said. “Consumers rule,” he said.

St. Regis General Manager Senih Geray was pleasantly surprised by business in March, when a lot of last-minute reservations materialized. That helped the hotel post a strong season.

“Actually it was much better than last season,” Geray said. “The cash flow was better than we expected.”

The St. Regis closed April 4 for a major renovation of rooms and other areas. It will reopen in mid-June.

The luxury hotel saw an increase in international travelers, he said, as well as wholesale traffic, such as business booked by travel agents. Overall, he estimated bookings were up 15 percent in February and March compared to the same months last year.

However, Geray suspects that business from the San Francisco Bay Area, traditionally one of Aspen’s strongest markets, dipped this season. The reason – a Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Lake Tahoe is siphoning off travelers as it gets established. It opened in December 2009, adding to the already competitive luxury hotel market in western resorts, he said.

Frias believes Aspen and Snowmass also suffered from a wild, snowy winter throughout the U.S. As good as the snow was in Aspen, it was maybe even better some major competitors, he said. Residents of major markets, like Los Angeles, likely stayed closer to home. Residents of New England possibly didn’t feel an urge to travel west.

“It’s all about the snow. It was great all over, therefore you don’t have to travel to get it,” Frias said.