VAIL, Colorado - While the country faces economic uncertainty with the looming fiscal cliff, the election has provided at least one piece of certainty - that nothing has really changed.
With President Obama reelected, the Republicans maintaining the majority in House of Representatives and the Democrats maintaining control of the Senate, Washington looks, well, almost identical to how it did a week ago.
Observers of the booking and spending patterns of those who take ski vacations like Ralf Garrison, director of the Denver-based Mountain Travel Research Program, have talked about how election years tend to bring about a general feeling of consumer optimism. Garrison told the Vail Daily in late August that much of that optimism centers around "prospects for change."
Now, after the election, the issue of bipartisan bickering is front and center again.
"The conclusion is nothing changed," Garrison said. "What has happened in the last 48 hours since the election is the Dow dropped 330 points on day one ... and the discussion of the upcoming fiscal cliff showed up the morning after the election. We didn't get a change in the election that makes people feel like a new solution is forthcoming."
Garrison is looking for a sign that would make consumers feel better about spending vacation money, but the election merely shifted the conversation to the next problem: the fiscal cliff.
What is the fiscal cliff? It's a looming economic situation in which the Bush-era tax cuts are set to expire and a mandatory $1.2 trillion in spending cuts - including $600 billion in defense and $600 billion in domestic programs - are set to kick in. It threatens to send the United States back into a recession unless Congress can come to an agreement by Dec. 31 on how to prevent it or at least slow it.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 2.4 percent the day after the election, the fifth largest one-day drop following a presidential election, according to the Associated Press.
So with the certainty of more uncertainty decided, Garrison is now looking at how snow impacts upcoming winter ski resort bookings.
"The other thing we're waiting for is a snow event of sufficient size and magnitude to solve consumers' concern," Garrison said. "While many resorts are opening on time, the significant, mind-changing snow event of our dreams has yet to occur."
Garrison said this weekend snow that swept across the state could kick things off. He noted that the first resort to get that attitude-changing snow is going to get the related benefit. And if all resorts get the snow, all should benefit, he said.
"Snow is about to become strategic, because the economy is not behaving as we would hope," Garrison said.
Vail Valley Partnership Executive Director Chris Romer said October bookings for future months were down about 2 percent, but October 2012 bookings were more positive than October 2008 bookings, when the major recession began.
Romer is also paying attention to the effects of Hurricane Sandy on the Northeast, though.
"That, I would expect, is going to have an impact on bookings in November simply because so much of our market is that Northeast corridor," Romer said. "It doesn't mean they're not going to come, but booking a ski vacation is the furthest thing from their minds (right now)."
Romer also points to the fiscal cliff as a concern for winter reservations.
"In a normal election year, it tends to be, 'Let's wait for the election and then let's move,'" Romer said. "This year, because of the fiscal cliff, I would expect people are going to sit on the sidelines a little bit."
And last season's abysmal snow - one of the worst seasons ever in terms of snowfall for Vail and Beaver Creek - is already making the booking pace slower for the early ski season, Romer said. Last year's early bookings were pacing ahead of the previous season because that season had record-breaking snow.
"November looks OK, but December is down double digits," Romer said.
But people could just be waiting for the snow before they book their trips. Romer said if that's the case, "we'll know in December."
"We'll be able to see it in phone volume and booking pace hopefully (this) week when we get the snowstorm this weekend," Romer said Friday in anticipation of the storm that came through the valley Saturday and Sunday. "I would suggest that we are positioned to do really well in December, but I do think it's going to be snow dependent."
So whether the weekend storm was enough for an attitudinal shift, as Garrison describes, should come to light this week as calls and bookings - hopefully - start picking up.
As of Sept. 30, reservations for arrivals in December across the Western mountain resorts that Garrison studies were down 12 percent.
"We would expect that number not to improve (post-election)," Garrison said. "We continue to be in the holding pattern for the precipitous event that makes consumers feel better about the economy or better about snow conditions."
Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or email@example.com.