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Christmas was soft, but it could have been worse

Brief by Allen Best

Economy – February 2009 – Colorado Central Magazine

It could be a much, much worse winter — namely one with no snow. Instead, records for December snowfall from Telluride to Aspen Highlands tumbled. And the holiday schedule this year allowed for people to excuse two weeks of vacation.

That said, how are the ski towns doing economically?

If you can ignore the giant vacuum that used to be the real-estate sector, spot evidence suggests ski towns are doing reasonably well. Vail, Aspen and other ski towns have been packed at times, if spending is clearly more measured and restrained.

The Aspen Times reports that Christmas week lodging occupancy this year was 67 percent, compared to 87 percent for the same period last year.

Aspen Skiing Co. reported strong business at its ski areas over the holidays. More than 20,000 skier and snowboarder visits were recorded at its four skier mountains on one day, plus visits exceeding 18,000 on four consecutive days.

Vail Resorts, which has four ski areas in Colorado and one on the California-Nevada border, reported a 6 percent decline in skier visits through the early season. Lift ticket revenue was down 7.5 percent.

The bright side was that lodging wasn’t down as much as some had feared, just 15 percent at the company’s hotels and condominiums, compared to the 23 percent drop that had been projected as recently as November. The uptick was credited, in part, to “aggressive” promotional offers.

Aspen is also more aggressively offering deals. It recently announced package deals with Frontier Airlines and other partners that will shave $1,000 off the cost of a five-day ski vacation. January bookings have been at 58 percent capacity, compared to 72 percent last year.

Overall, Aspen Skiing projects 5 to 15 percent fewer skier visits this season as compared to last year.