EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado - The calendar plays tricks sometimes, but the Vail Valley is usually bustling over the Christmas season. This year, the bustle was a little busier than last year.
That Christmas bustle came as welcome news to businesses that were itching for the cash register-ringing combination of snow and visitors to help their balance sheets. The season started slowly, due largely to a combination of little early snow and a quirk of the calendar that put several extra days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. That quirk also meant that most schools took their holiday break just days before Christmas, which meant destination visitors came late for their holiday stays.
Sarah Franke of Group 970, the company that owns the Chophouse restaurants in Vail and Beaver Creek, along with Blue Moose Pizza and other restaurants, agreed that the pre-holiday crowds were light. But once the holiday weeks hit, the restaurants got busy, and quickly.
"It was really great," Franke said.
Tara Picklo, co-owner of the Yeti's Grind coffee shop in Solaris in Vail Village, agreed.
"It was like a frantic chaos - it was all hands on deck," Picklo said.
In fact, Picklo said business at the Vail shop came as something of a surprise.
"We had five record days in a row," she said. "It kind of caught us off guard a little."
Just east of Solaris, Mountain Haus General Manager Steve Hawkins said that 75-unit condo/hotel was full, or nearly so, for the entire two weeks of the holiday season. But, Hawkins said, the Mountain Haus was full with a twist.
"This place is so quiet in the day you'd think it was off-season," Hawkins said. "That's because people are out skiing all day."
And, he added, if people aren't skiing, they're off doing something, keeping the three-person concierge staff hopping to fill requests and make suggestions.
The Christmas season doesn't rely much on impulse visits - most guests make their reservations far in advance. Those people also rent their ski gear in advance, which kept the crew busy at Venture Sports in Avon.
"We were pretty steady at the shop," Mike Miller of Venture Sports said. "With the holidays, we'll sometimes have big groups come in." A family or group of 15 or 20 people will both fill up the small shop and keep the crew busy, Miller said.
A good number of guests around the valley decided to head to Edwards for at least one meal over the holiday season.
Daryl DeYoung, a manager at Vista Restaurant at Arrowhead, said that restaurant was busy virtually every night of the two-week holiday period.
"It was spectacular - it was better than last year for those weeks," DeYoung said, adding that while last season might have had a few more big-reservation nights, this season was more consistent.
DeYoung said part of that steady stream might be due to the presence of pianist Mickey Poage, who for decades entertained people at the Lodge at Vail before moving down valley. This is Poage's second season at Vista, and DeYoung said it looks like people now know where to find him when they're looking for a bit of fun with their meals.
Of course, fun is one of the pillars of the resort business model, and some much-needed snow seemed to provide a good infusion of fun into people's vacations.
"We notice when the snow's good or when it's not so great," Franke said. "This year, you could tell people were having a good time."
Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.