Tourism surge continues in the Roaring Fork Valley

Resurgence of visitors to valley communities area shows no sign of slowing down in 2022

People walk through a snowy downtown area on Sunday, Dec. 26, 2021, in Aspen.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

This week and into the first week of 2022, The Aspen Times will examine the issues and news events that defined the Aspen-area community in 2021, while also turning the lens to next year and what to watch for. Our 10-part series will show how the pandemic’s tentacles have and will continue to dip into our lives: skiing, tourism, development, mental health, labor shortages, business closings, housing shortages, a real estate boom, entertainment, and on and on.

Tourism-dependent towns in the Roaring Fork Valley rapidly went from wondering if guests would ever return when COVID-19 hit in March 2020 to being overwhelmed with visitors starting just a few months later.

That tourism surge continued through 2021 and shows little sign of abating in 2022.

Unlike other years when tourism picked up, this time travelers made themselves at home. White-collar workers who weren’t tied to an office because of the pandemic discovered they would love to work remotely from the mountains. Urban dwellers fed up with civil unrest and lockdowns flocked to mountain towns in large part to enjoy the great outdoors. Tourists were transformed into residents.

Meanwhile, overwhelmed employees bemoaned the loss of offseason this fall.

Summer occupancy for properties in Aspen and Snowmass Village was 60.3%, an increase of 6% from 2019 and up nearly 53% from the prior summer.

“The key performance drivers for this summer were numerous,” said a recent occupancy report by Stay Aspen Snowmass, a central reservations center affiliated with Aspen Skiing Co. One reason was pent-up travel desires among U.S. residents who faced restrictions on international travel. “U.S. citizens were getting vaccinated in the spring and summer and were still restricted from traveling freely around the world.”

Another attraction was the full slate of special events presented by local chambers of commerce. The tourism entities once feared they needed to load the calendar to draw people back. Now — after hordes kept coming — chambers of commerce from Aspen to Glenwood Springs are assessing their approaches to potentially dial back to more “sustainable” tourism.

Skiers and snowboarders come off of a snowy Aspen Mountain on Sunday, Dec. 26, 2021, in Aspen.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Reservations on the books indicate that as long as Aspen and Snowmass receive snow this winter, the resorts are a lock for solid performances.

Reservations on the books as of Nov. 30 for the 2021-22 winter produce occupancy of 43.4% in Aspen and Snowmass Village, 4% better than two years ago at the same time and a whopping 96% better than last year.

“January and April are the only two months performing worse than two years ago, the rest are all pacing up,” the report by Stay Aspen Snowmass states.

People walk through a snowy downtown area on Sunday, Dec. 26, 2021, in Aspen.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

January is taking a hit because it is traditionally such a huge month for international travel, particularly from Australia. Tough travel restrictions are reducing the numbers this year.

At the current pace of business, January might present the last reprieve for a long, long time.