West Grand outfitters wary as reservations run dry
The west side of Grand County is a summer recreator’s paradise. From rafting to riding, the Kremmling area offers visitors access to world-class ATV trails and Rocky Mountain views.
As with winter sports, though, summer outfitters rely almost entirely on tourism to keep their businesses afloat. And with short-term lodging bans in Grand County extended to May 26 and Summit County to May 31, the outfitters are seeing few – if any – reservations.
“We generally see the bulk of our reservations come in within one to two weeks of the activity date, however, we also typically have something on the books for every day of the busy season (mid-June to late-August) by now,” said Han Smith, who owns and operates the Rusty Spurr Ranch with his wife, Connie.
“Right now we only have four reservations for the month of June and six for July,” Smith said. “Normally we would expect to have around 25-30 reservations for June and 40-50 for July at this time of the year.”
The Smiths aren’t alone.
“Season reservations were a bit ahead of average heading into the pandemic, but have been few and far between since the pandemic started,” said Ryan Barwick of MAD Adventures Rafting.
With multiple access points from Colorado Highway 1 between Kremmling and State Bridge, the Colorado River attracts both seasoned rafters and tourists looking for a taste of whitewater. According to Barwick, the Upper Colorado typically hosts between 35,000 and 50,000 commercial users per season – making rafting a significant seasonal business in the West Grand community.
Six rafting outfitters maintain permanent residences in Kremmling — MAD Adventures, Adventures in Whitewater and Liquid Descent all have main street storefronts, and Breckenridge Whitewater, KODI and AVA maintain offices in the area.
Creating a safe environment
With their lodging partners not operating, most of the outfitters are focused on how their day-to-day operations will need to change in a post-pandemic world.
“There are plenty of uncertainties around the guidelines we will operate under this summer,” Barwick said. “MAD will operate, (but) there will be some changes from our normal operation. The industry is having conversations with and waiting on some final guidance on those changes and guidelines from the state.”
Eric Woog, whose business Alpine Motor Sports, usually rents ATVs to summer visitors, has already decided the state-issued disinfection guidelines and the effort to maintain a COVID-safe environment doesn’t justify continuing that piece of business this summer.
“Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus shutdowns, it looks like will not be renting Razors this summer — at least not without a huge turnaround,” Woog said.
The Smiths are looking at their daily operating routines too and considering whether the expense of opening for the summer will outweigh the profit.
“Is the (tourism) interest going to justify all of the upfront expense to open — training staff, shoeing horses, renewing work comp, insuring vehicles, liability insurance, marketing expenses like brochure distribution and Google ad campaigns, traveling to referral businesses for promotional purposes, etc.,” Smith said.
Like many other small businesses, the Smiths have applied for a Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loan to help remove some of the financial burden.
“A business like ours has a huge overhead and most of it is paid before any paying customers come through the door,” Smith said. “We’ve been successful in postponing or delaying most of these expenses until we have more information to make decisions about our season.”
In addition to seeking a loan to retain their key employees, the Smiths are also considering contracting their services to working ranches in the area who need help because of seasonal labor restrictions.
While the state’s recommendations and guidelines remain in flux, the one thing that has remained constant for all of the outfitters is community support.
“The spirit of cooperation and support that we’ve encountered at every turn will provide us with the strength to survive this challenging time,” Smith said. “Our collective attitude has been: Let’s work together to make sure we all survive 2020, and we can get back to business as usual next year.”
Barwick echoed those sentiments.
“It is safe to assume that out-of-state visitation will be down for the summer season,” he said. “My hope is that Coloradans will still want and be able to go outdoors to recreate with their family, and in doing so, (will) travel Colorado and support our local businesses and workers.”
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Grand County’s real estate transactions Jan. 17-23 were worth more than $8.4 million combined.