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December 2, 2012
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Can snow save the Christmas season?

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado - It's a syndrome as old as the ski business: Scant snow equals furrowed brows.Some Vail Valley lodges and property managers report they're sold out for the week between Christmas and Jan. 1. But the rest of December isn't as cheerful, and that has some in the valley worried."Right now, we're at 30 (percent) to 40 percent, at best, for the week before Christmas," Antlers Lodge General Manager Rob LeVine said.In normal years, LeVine said the Antlers would be 80 percent booked, or more, in that week at rates nearly equal to those charged during Christmas week.Tommy Hoffman, owner of Rocky Mountain Vacation Rentals, said his business is up, just slightly, for the end of the year. And, he added, he's heard stories of other lodges' reservations being down, and significantly, from last year.LeVine, for one, isn't terribly worried. At least not yet.For one thing, there really isn't anything anyone can do about snow levels. We can all do snow dances, take our snow tires back off or, for those so inclined, pray. The skies will bring snow when it happens to come.

But the calendar - which puts Christmas and New Year's Day on Tuesdays - may have more to do with lighter reservation numbers this year than the weather.The Eagle County School District's "holiday break" starts Dec. 24, and kids' last day of school is Dec. 20. School starts again Jan. 7. Most schools are following a similar holiday schedule. Vail Valley Partnership Executive Director Chris Romer said having kids in school until the weekend before Christmas will, by definition, put a brake on reservations the week before."It's always this way when those holidays fall on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday," Romer said. Since the Partnership is one of the valley's main reservation services, Romer gets to see reservation numbers for the coming weeks and months. He acknowledged that reservations for the week before Christmas are pacing behind last year. But, he added, the pace of reservations for the last week of December is actually running ahead of last year's numbers. January reservations are "OK," Romer said, and February and March are "fine."Steve Virostek runs Triumph Mountain Properties. Part of that company's business is vacation rentals, with about 40 units available. He said that part of the operation is running well right now."We're up over 200 percent over last year," Virostek said. "We've had a couple of early cancelations, but that's it."

The long-term rental market - rentals for at least several months - seems to be strong, too.Onie Bolduc, of Bold Property Solutions - an Avon-based real estate and property-management company - said his company has fewer vacancies for this season than the previous couple. That's a sign of an improving real estate market, which has been reflected in the number of sales so far this year.Bolduc, who grew up in the valley, said he understands the snow anxiety in the valley but isn't worried just yet. "We've had Thanksgiving without snow a lot ... and we haven't had a lot of World Cup races with the whole mountain open," he said.LeVine has spent most of his life in the valley, too. He said there's still time for snow to have an effect on the holiday season."If we get some significant snow in the next week or two, that'll help," LeVine said. "If it's past (Dec. 15), it won't really help us. ... Even the people who wait, at some point, will say, 'We're going somewhere.'" Every day that goes by without snow, we lose some of that business."Everyone wants snow, of course, but Virostek said that Vail had a record month for sales tax in December of last year, when Vail Mountain hadn't yet opened the Back Bowls. That, he believes, is thanks to Vail's decade-long renovation, which put a lot more amenities into the town.And there are still people who own vacation property in Vail or Beaver Creek who will come to the valley for their holiday celebrations. But that group is a relatively small part of the total crowd the valley hopes to host at the end of the year. Rich tenBraak, executive director of the Vail Chamber & Business Association, said that group still shops and dines but doesn't pay lodging tax, which will show up on town and county balance sheets. But people are coming for the holidays, no matter how white this Christmas may end up."I had a client email me from Mexico this morning asking whether she should cancel ski school for her kids," Bolduc said. "She didn't say she wasn't coming, just whether to cancel ski school. People will be here, and if they can't ski, they're going to the movies or out shopping."So (snow) is concerning, but it's not a concern."Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Dec 2, 2012 06:00PM Published Dec 2, 2012 05:56PM Copyright 2012 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.