Mountain towns, resorts assess the snow dividend |

Mountain towns, resorts assess the snow dividend

Special to the DailyWhen storms dumped new snow on Summit County ski areas last week, shots like this one from Arapahoe Basin were sent out to the media to get the word out that winter was back in full force. Typically, news of big snow makes the phones ring for resorts, but this year results appear mixed thus far.

Mother Nature couldn’t have timed it any better.

After an unusually mild shoulder season, she dialed up heaping portions of snow for the local resorts and the businesses that rely on them. The short-term effect of the early snow has been mixed, but business owners are hopeful that by advertising the snowfall, it will have a positive long-term impact on traffic this winter.

Despite the ample amounts of snow in Summit County, not all area businesses saw increases versus last year for the first two weeks of the ski season.

Burke and Riley’s in Breckenridge saw very little increase over last year, but owner Mark Burke said 2009 wasn’t necessarily a bad year for his establishment, even if business still lagged behind pre-recession levels.

“We have a big local following, so we continue to do well,” Burke said. “But I think we could all use a big win this year.”

Hearthstone Restaurant, also in Breckenridge, saw a similarly modest uptick in business versus last year, according to Dick Carleton, managing partner of Storm Restaurants – Hearthstone’s parent company.

Location played a role in how area businesses fared in the wake of winter storms. Keystone Ski Resort had 19 more runs and nearly 500 more acres open than Breckenridge by Sunday. New Moon Cafe owner Barbara Blanchard said sales at her River Run Village establishment in Keystone were twice what she had anticipated for Sunday.

“For me, the snow definitely helped,” Blanchard said. Though it’s only her second season operating in Keystone, she said last weekend was better than any she had in November of last year.

Summit Mountain Rentals marketing manager Rachel Lebsack said that, unlike previous years, this year’s snowfall had little effect on bookings.

“We normally see the phones go crazy the day after a snowfall, but that has not happened this year,” she said. “Bookings seem more erratic and unpredictable this year.”

The Breckenridge Resort Chamber and Vail Resorts have been marketing the recent snowfall on a national level to increase winter bookings. Last week’s snow storm was featured on the Weather Channel, CNN and other national news sources, bringing the all-important marketing of snow to the limelight.

“We work with Breckenridge Ski Resort, and they did an amazing job getting message out,” said Breckenridge Resort Chamber marketing manager Rachel Zerowin.

The chamber also put together “quick turnaround” television spots to advertise the fresh powder on stations across the country.

Area ski resorts like Keystone and Breckenridge pushed the message of fresh snow through a variety of channels including Facebook and Twitter. Keystone spokesman Ryan Whaley said the Sunday television premiere of “The Dog Who Saved Christmas Vacation” on ABC Family could have a positive impact on tourism. The movie was filmed at Keystone and stars Paris Hilton and Mario Lopez.

“It’s kind of huge because everybody is going to know it’s shot at Keystone Resort,” Whaley said. “It’s just another way to get that idea out there.”

So far the outlook for western resort communities looks better for the upcoming season, though Breckenridge’s specific data appears mixed.

Bookings for western mountain communities for the upcoming winter months from November to April are up 2.7 percent from this same time last year, while the daily rate is up only 0.1 percent for the same period, according to data from mountain research firm mTRiP. The Breckenridge Resort Chamber’s specific mTRiP report showed a dip of 10.6 percent in bookings from last year, but a healthy 4.4 percent increase in average daily rates. So while Breckenridge Resorts are booking at a lower rate than last year, they are doing so at a higher price.

“There is some sign of increasing demand in the overall market place, but not very much,” mTRiP founder and director Ralf Garrison said. “Those who are going to try to add price have to do so very carefully because a small increase in price can mean a large decrease in occupancy.”

How much of an impact the current snow will have on the rest of the season depends largely on how much buzz it generates.

“What we don’t know for sure is if this message is getting out to the mountain guest,” Garrison said.

Still, Garrison said anecdotally that the Front Range was buzzing from the recent snow. Now it’s up to the resorts and chambers to get the rest of the country buzzing.

SDN reporter Drew Andersen can be contacted at (970) 668-4633.

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