Strong season so far for Skico, but pitfalls remain |

Strong season so far for Skico, but pitfalls remain

The Aspen Skiing Co. is off to a strong start to the season, but there are mixed signals on whether the momentum can continue.

An earlier opening than last season has helped the Skico rack up more skiers and riders through the first quarter of the season, according to Skico Chief Operating Officer John Norton.

“Business is much stronger than last year, and conditions have much to do with that,” Norton said. “We’ve gained a lot of ground so far, and expect that to continue.”

As a private company, the Skico doesn’t release business information such as profits or skier visits during the season. It will only disclose its skier visits at Colorado Ski Country USA’s annual business meeting in June. Otherwise, its performance during the season is anecdotal.

Occupancy reports from the resort associations of Aspen and Snowmass Village indicated the number of visitors was about the same during Christmas week as last year.

Occupancy in Aspen hovered around 86 percent, the same as last season, according to a survey of lodging properties released Friday by the Aspen Chamber Resort Association.

Snowmass Village’s occupancy was forecast to be 50 percent, compared to 48 percent last year, for the week starting Dec. 23. More excited to ski Although there aren’t any more people staying here than last season, people are purchasing more lift tickets, according to Bill Tomcich, president of Aspen Central Reservations. His organization books only about 5 percent of room nights at Aspen properties, but it’s often a good indicator of consumer trends.

The number of lift ticket packages sold after Dec. 1 – when a promotional deal by the Skico ended – is up about 60 percent this year, according to Tomcich.

He believes people who are in town are skiing more this season than last because of better conditions. Norton said the Skico also expects to get a boost by having more second-home owners in town and on the slopes.

“We expect the lights on Red Mountain and Starwood to be pretty bright the next couple weeks,” he said.

A poor holiday showing because of lousy snow conditions and travelers’ wariness over the millennium helped sink the Skico’s season last year. The Skico’s customers visits – the number of lift tickets bought and used by skiers and riders – dropped 7.5 percent last season. They fell 8.5 percent the winter before.

Skico officials have told business leaders in Aspen and Snowmass Village they believe a 10 percent increase is possible this season. Most of that gain must be posted before mid-February because business was relatively strong in late February and March last season, according to Norton. Happy New Year The new year is beginning with a bang, at least in Aspen.

“Next week is the holiday surprise,” said Norton, referring to the week beginning Dec. 31. “Lots of people are staying until January 6th or 7th, and so that will really be the second holiday week this season.”

Current reservations would produce an occupancy rate of 61 percent from Dec. 31 to Jan. 6, according to ACRA’s survey. That is up from 47 percent actual occupancy last year for the same week.

Snowmass Village properties are experiencing the opposite trend. The forecast for this week is 51 percent occupancy compared to 65 percent for the same week last season.

In the longer term, Aspen’s reservations are running behind last season’s actual occupancy for the weeks of Jan. 7 and Jan. 14, according to ACRA’s report. However, late bookings can change that outlook.

Reservations in Snowmass Village will produce more business than last year for the week of Jan. 6. The wild cards Mother Nature will obviously play a major and unpredictable role in winter business. However, three other major factors are also coming into play for the Skico: advance lift ticket sales; the national economy; and the strength of the U.S. dollar.

Norton said sales of discounted lift tickets surpassed last season’s mark. Both seasons the Skico offered discounts that reduced the price to as low as $39 per day when multi-day tickets were purchased.

More than 100,000 skier days were produced through sales of those tickets last season.

“We’re still counting, but [director of ticket sales] John Rigney guesses that we’ll exceed last year’s sales,” Norton said.

The Skico may be fortunate it got some people to commit to trips before Dec. 1. Consumer confidence plunged in December – particularly among the nation’s more affluent families, according to a Dec. 23 article in The New York Times.

The big spenders – those in households with incomes of more than $50,000 – have lost confidence because of losses in the stock market, the article said. Those are the same families the ski industry depends upon.

The Skico may also find it more difficult to attract foreign guests this season, due to the strength of the dollar. About 20 percent of the Skico’s customers visits come from foreign guests. Australia, Brazil and Germany are the three countries that are the biggest contributors.

Exchange rates are particularly unfavorable right now for Australians and Germans, according to sources in the travel industry. It couldn’t be determined Friday if the Skico has noticed any trends in foreign business yet.

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