Where has fall offseason gone? | AspenTimes.com

Where has fall offseason gone?

Naomi Havlen

Mark Fox/The Aspen TimesMembers of DMiesbacher OIM, a German dance band from Denver, perform traditional dance numbers Saturday for the annual Oktoberfest celebration in Snowmass Village.

The Labor Day weekends of yesteryear may have once marked the end of the summer tourist season in Aspen, but times have changed.The holiday weekend now represents just the beginning of one more month of tourism, some travel and business officials say, complete with a number of weekend events geared toward road-trippers.Nowhere is that more apparent than in Snowmass Village, where weekend activities are booming this month through the 24th. Summer may be when families come to the mountains, but when kids go back to school it’s time to market events toward empty nesters, said Susan Hamley, the town’s marketing director.Snowmass is working with the Denver Post to publicize next weekend’s 30th anniversary of the Snowmass Balloon Festival and even sending out an “e-mail blast” to an audience of AARP members. Other weekend events, including Saturday’s Oktoberfest and the Scottish-themed Highlands Games on the 24th, are good weekend events for families, said Allison Johnson, the town’s director of publicity.

“People seem excited about everything – they haven’t thought of Snowmass as a fall destination in the past,” she said. “People think of New England in the fall for the leaf-changing, but for me, the Rockies are even prettier with all the gold leaves in the mountains. That’s one of the messages we’re trying to get across.”It’s worked, according to Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen-Snowmass, a local reservations agency. Last year saw a major boom in business in September.”Over all, September has been growing steadily,” he said. “Prior to September 11 in 2001 we had steady growth, but it took us two to three years to recover.”This year has not had the same level of hotel and flight bookings as 2004, but Tomcich said September visitors typically drive to town rather than fly and also make hotel reservations at the last minute. He also wonders if the recent hike in gasoline prices has changed people’s travel plans.”There’s no question that creating special events brings people to town,” he said.

Aspen Highlands is getting in on the action for the second year in a row this September, with the second Maroon Bells Festival of Color on Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. The event features live music, artists working on the village plaza and samples from restaurants in the village.Hamley said officials in Snowmass dreamt up ways to take a traditionally locals-only event, the Snowmass Balloon Festival, and turn it into an event for visitors.”The challenge is how to keep people here. One way was teaming up with the Wine & Jazz festival,” she said. “We’ve added a champagne brunch on Sunday morning and kids activities, so there’s more of a reason to stay. The [Golden Leaf] half-marathon is also that weekend – when you combine all of this, the Balloon Festival is the icing on the cake. Maybe it would push you over the fence if you were trying to decide when to come to Snowmass.”September has already gotten off to a good start, according to Debbie Braun, president of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association. Attendance was good at last weekend’s Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Festival and for the MotherLode volleyball tournament.”Next weekend is the 38th annual Ruggerfest, and we’re expecting 40 teams from around the U.S. It also attracts a lot of Front Range fans who also come to see the Snowmass Balloon Festival,” she said. “The trees will also begin to peak, and we’re a popular destination for leaf watchers all over the state.”

She added that the trend has been toward visitors who are retirees and young couples who don’t have kids. There’s really no time for a breath between the summer crowds and the September visitors, she said.”September is not offseason anymore, and offseason is getting shorter and shorter,” Braun said. “Businesses want events in the shoulder season, and we bring them here, but some people complain about having too many people in town. It’s a double-edged sword, but it’s all about finding balance.”Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com