Turkey Day big, but not that big for Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Turkey Day big, but not that big for Aspen

Jill Beathard
The Aspen Times
The crowd at at a World Cup giant slalom race in Aspen in December lets out a collective gasp as Mikaela Shiffrin crashes. The crowds are expected to be significantly larger at the World Cup Finals in March.
Aspen Times file photo |

As usual, Thanksgiving week has been big for tourism in Aspen, but not that big.

The holiday weekend, when many families are out of school or off work and when the city also hosts the Winternational World Cup races, brings an uptick in tourism to Aspen but not nearly on the level of other holidays like Christmas or President’s Day weekend.

“Thanksgiving’s not a huge holiday for us,” said Petra Gregory, of Pitkin County Dry Goods. “It is busier, but it’s not huge.”

On Friday, when shoppers in other towns and cities across the U.S. were fighting the madness of Black Friday sales, Pitkin County Dry Goods had a steady stream of customers, but not a huge spike. Like most Aspen businesses, the retail clothing store offers sales mid-winter and mid-summer but not on Black Friday, when most of its inventory is still fresh for the season.

“It’s different in a resort,” Gregory said.

Ryno’s Pub & Pizzeria was hosting a lot of families Friday.

“A lot of people are on Thanksgiving break,” said Justin Gaines, a Ryno’s server. “There’s a slight uptick, but it can be hit or miss.”

New snow, like what Aspen received Friday, helps the restaurant because visitors, who on Thanksgiving often cook inside their condos, would be skiing and probably staying in town for lunch instead of going back to their rooms for leftovers, Gaines said.

Hosting the World Cup races “doesn’t make a big difference” in terms of the number of customers the shop sees, Gregory said. Gaines said he’s never spoken to a guest who said they were in town just for the races.

But there is a small regional draw for the races, particularly in seasons when American contestants — and more specifically, Colorado natives — have promising outlooks. Buzz Schleper of Vail came to Aspen to watch his daughter, four-time Olympian Sarah Schleper, compete for Mexico on Friday.

“I actually have been coming to Aspen as long as I’ve lived in Vail,” he said. “I haven’t missed a World Cup race in Aspen since 1970. I love it.”

Schleper said he saw a few people he knows from the Vail Valley, including Lindsey Vonn’s siblings, at the race arena Friday. There’s some chatter in Vail about the U.S. Ski Team’s women, but since the resort is hosting the men’s Birds of Prey race next week, a lot of the hype is focused around that, he said.

As of mid-November, when the last report on hotel bookings was published, Aspen’s lodges were set to be about 50 percent full Friday night, usually the peak night of the weekend, said Bill Tomcich, president of reservations agency Stay Aspen Snowmass. That’s dead even compared with the bookings reported mid-month for Black Friday last year, which wound up at 54 percent, Tomcich said.

Snowmass Village, which had 25 percent occupancy on Black Friday last year, was pacing about five points ahead as of Nov. 15, Tomcich said. The upper valley seems to have had more last-minute bookings since that report came out than last year, probably due to all the recent snowfall, he said.

The buzz around the U.S. Ski Team, particularly Vail’s Mikaela Shiffrin, likely drew some last-minute bookings from the Front Range and Vail Valley, Tomcich said.

“You know that those people are coming over here to watch the races,” he said.

The international media exposure of the races, especially with snow falling in the background like there was on Friday, is “priceless,” he added.


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