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Spring break deals aimed at keeping Colorado ski towns busy

Catherine Tsai
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
Aspen Times filePierre Wille, an owner of Aspen's Tyrolean Lodge on Main Street, has been offering bargains.
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DENVER ” With the busy spring break season peaking, ski town businesses and resorts are promoting deals to try to juice business that has slipped in the recession.

The Tyrolean Lodge in Aspen is advertising rooms starting at $195 a night for the week of March 15, but its website has a line saying, “Recession Help Available! Please call.” Lodge owner Pierre Wille said one caller was quoted a rate of $150 for one night.

“It’s caused a nightmare in negotiating prices,” he said. Occupancy at the lodge was a lofty 90 percent in January, but he’s been willing to bargain after some of the 16 rooms went unsold for President’s Day weekend. “That hasn’t happened in 20 years,” Wille said.

“We’ll do whatever it takes to get them to stay, within reason,” he said.

Skier visits through February were down about 5.9 percent from what they were last year at 22 resorts belonging to the trade group Colorado Ski Country USA. Vail Resorts Inc., whose results weren’t included, said visits to its four Colorado resorts are holding steady overall.

Though visitors might not be spending much, specials on lift tickets, rentals, food and lodging have kept them from canceling ski trips outright.

“There’s some ridiculous deals out there,” said Todd Walton of Crested Butte Mountain Resort.

At Monarch Mountain near Salida, specials have contributed to a roughly 20 percent drop in ticket sale revenues this season, but visits are only down by single digits, said marketing director Greg Ralph.

The discounts have been important for keeping Monarch’s reputation as affordable, he said.

“In years like this, when people are making tough choices about where to spend their money, we don’t want them to drop out of the sport altogether,” Ralph said. “If a family stops skiing for a few years, there’s a good chance they may never come back.”

Crested Butte resort is offering, with certain restrictions, two more free days of lodging and lift tickets for fly-in customers who buy two lift tickets and two nights at its Elevation Hotel and Spa. The idea is that once skiers stay in town, they might buy food and other amenities ” and come back next season, Walton said.

The resort’s own lodging properties are about 60 percent full this week, he said.

In December, some ski towns faced the unusual prospect of having hotel rooms left to sell with two weeks to go before Christmas, and skiers seem to be waiting for last-minute deals again for spring break.

The Aspen Chamber Resort Association said an estimated 55 percent of rooms at selected Aspen hotels were booked for March as of Feb. 28, down from 75 percent at the same time last year.

“People that didn’t think they could afford to come in Aspen can find great deals,” Wille said.

The Vail Valley Partnership, which promotes tourism in the Vail Valley, says lodging occupancy in March is typically about 77 percent. As of Feb. 9, March bookings were down 26.7 percent compared with last year.

The Breckenridge Resort Chamber was reporting a 24 percent vacancy rate for spring break lodging that was just about sold out last year at this time. It is promoting a free concert next week, plus last-minute lodging discounts, to show that trips there can be affordable.

Lodging at Powderhorn Resort near Grand Junction is full and skier visits are running only about 3 percent below average, spokeswoman Sarah Allen said. She said smaller resorts seem to be benefiting from offering cheaper lift tickets and free parking. “All those little things add up,” she said.

To keep customers heading to the mountains, the Steamboat ski area is offering a $99 pass for three days of skiing in April, among other specials. In southwest Colorado, Durango Mountain Resort is offering three days and nights of lodging and riding starting at $171 per person for two people.

Occupancy rates are still changing as last-minute visitors snap up rooms, and spring break is yet to come for the University of Colorado and others. Spring snow could make a difference too, Walton said.

“Everybody loves a powder day.”


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