Aspen skier visits up 7% through December |

Aspen skier visits up 7% through December

ASPEN – The Aspen Skiing Co. logged a 7 percent increase in skier visits through Dec. 31 compared to the start of last season, spokesman Jeff Hanle said Wednesday.

“It’s a great start and it builds momentum for the season,” Hanle said.

Snowmass and Aspen Highlands posted the largest gains over the prior season, he said, and Aspen Mountain “is not far behind” its sister resorts. Buttermilk was the only one of the Skico’s four ski areas where visits by skiers and snowboard riders has dropped so far this season. But Buttermilk gets its time to shine later this month as host of the Winter X Games.

Hanle said Skico officials credit the strong increase so far this season to delivering a high level of customer service last season and seeing it pay off with return visits; a “value added” marketing strategy with features like extra lift tickets or lodging rather than reduced prices; and snow.

“It’s been good early,” Hanle said of the most precious ingredient. Despite warm temperatures and rain in Aspen and throughout the Roaring Fork Valley in mid-December, snow blanketed the upper slopes and created good early conditions. More snow last weekend followed by the deep freeze has created conditions locals are accustomed to.

The snowpack in the Aspen area is 25 percent above average for this point in January, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s snow survey showed Wednesday.

Skier visits – defined as the purchase of a ticket for all or part of a day by a skier or rider – would likely be up even more so far this season if cold temperatures hadn’t rolled in the week sandwiched between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Holiday lodging occupancy peaked on New Year’s Eve day, but frigid conditions kept or chased customers off the slopes. Only the brave ventured out on Jan. 1, a cloudy day when temperatures didn’t climb above 0 at the top of the Big Burn chairlift at Snowmass by 1 p.m.

“Passholders were tough. We went up there,” Hanle said. Visitors could use lessons from locals on how to dress for such cold weather, he said.

The lodging industry reported earlier this week that occupancy in Snowmass Village was up 16 percent this December over the month last season. Snowmass properties reached an overall occupancy level of 39 percent.

Aspen’s overall occupancy fell 2 percent in December compared to last year, to a level of 48.5 percent.

Snowmass is where the Skico racks up its highest number of visits. With occupancy climbing in Snowmass Village, the Skico was able to more than offset occupancy falling in Aspen last month, Hanle noted.

He wouldn’t hazard a guess on whether the Skico can maintain its 7 percent increase in skier visits for the season. However, advance reservations indicate it should be a strong season, Hanle said.

Skico logged a 4.3 percent increase in skier visits last season over a 2008-09 campaign ravaged by the recession.

Colorado Ski Country USA typically releases a general business assessment by late January for its 22 member resorts. That is a good barometer of how the industry as a whole is faring.

Vail Resorts, which isn’t a member of the state ski industry association, reported its six ski areas have logged a 10 percent increase in skier visits through Jan. 6. The company operates Vail Mountain, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone in Colorado as well as Heavenly Ski Resort and Northstar-at-Tahoe in the Lake Tahoe area of California and Nevada.

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