Vail playing summertime catch-up
Aspen, CO Colorado
VAIL ” The town of Vail does 71 percent of its business from November to April.
Rayla Kundolf said her Vail Village art gallery, Masters Gallery, isn’t quite that unbalanced ” it does about 60 percent of its business in those winter months. But she’d like to see Vail business be more sustained through the year, she said.
“We need to go to a year-round resort,” she said. “People have to get out of the mindset of ‘mud season,'” she said.
Compared to other mountain resorts, Vail’s disparity between winter and non-winter business seems more pronounced.
Aspen sees 59 percent of its state taxable sales from November to April, according to a study done for the town of Vail. Telluride is even more balanced, with 54 percent of its sales coming in winter.
A more balanced economy is good, said Michael Robinson, president of the Vail Valley Partnership.
“If an individual business worked four or five months out of the year to make 12 months of money, that’s not necessarily an efficient business model,” he said.
Ralf Garrison, a resort analyst with The Advisory Group, used an old metaphor: If you’re building the church for Easter Sunday, you’re not using your resources efficiently.
“In a perfect world, businesses would be balanced over the year so there would be relatively fewer peaks,” he said.
Vail’s disparity between winter and summer is an opportunity to improve, Robinson said.
The town needs to decide what summer visitors want and how to attract them, he said.
Kaye Ferry, executive director of the Vail Chamber and Business Association, said Vail’s identity in the summer isn’t strong enough.
“I don’t think that we have ever really been defined well enough by one type of activity that we have set ourselves off from the rest of the pack,” she said. “We do a lot of things in the summer, but we are not known for doing anything in the summer better than everyone else.”
Of course, Vail has popular outdoor activities in the summer, including hiking, rafting and biking. Vail Mountain runs some of their lifts for a few months in the summer.
The town has the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival ” which will bring the New York Philharmonic and Philadelphia Orchestra for residencies this year ” the Teva Mountain Games and the Vail Jazz Festival in the summer.
But Aspen has long been known for its summer cultural offerings.
“Really, the arts and culture are the heart of our summertime,” said Debbie Braun, president of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association.
The founders of modern Aspen, including Walter Paepcke, envisioned Aspen as a place that would nourish mind, body and spirit. Paepcke’s Aspen Institute continues to host cultural events throughout the year, including the summer Aspen Ideas Festival.
The Aspen Music Festival and School also comes to the city each summer and those events have had strong followings for decades, Braun said.
“We have a leg up on a lot of the other manufactured resorts, in a sense,” she said.
While that may sound like a jab at a rival resort, Garrison agreed with her.
Ski resorts that were towns first, like Aspen and Telluride, have a strong base of local residents to support the economy in the off-seasons, Garrison said.
Plus, they’ve had more time to figure out how to have a successful “second season,” he said.
But Vail’s disparity between non-winter and winter business doesn’t necessarily mean the town’s summer business is hurting, Garrison said.
Vail is, after all, a world-class ski resort. “My guess is that it doesn’t show that Vail’s summer is weak,” he said. “It actually shows that Vail’s winter is particularly strong.”
Vail is doing a good job of marketing itself as a summer destination, but other communities like Aspen simply have a head start on Vail, Garrison said.
For Steve Rosenthal’s business, Colorado Footwear, July is a great month, his second-best of the year, he said.
The month brings a completely different clientele than the winter, including lots of Front Range visitors, he said.
He sees more customers but generally sells less-expensive products, he said.
Rosenthal ” whose store stays open 365 days a year ” sees lots of potential in some now-slow months, including September, he said.
“The more special events the better,” he said.
Expenses ” including increased insurance costs and constant, year-round rent ” make it imperative for him to stay open all year, he said.
“We definitely have to be a 12-month resort,” he said.
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