VAIL - Every season since the recession hit the valley, there's always a new economic trend that is referred to as the "new normal."
This season, many variables are contributing to atypical patterns among ski vacation consumers - a terrible snow year in 2011-12, fiscal cliff uncertainties in December and a slow start to winter in terms of snowfall have all contributed to creating a perfect storm of unpredictability. What it means is that there's one new normal that is predictable: Consumers are waiting to book their vacations.
"For me, the biggest trend I'm seeing is just a hesitation from the consumer - that they're not booking until they know we have the right conditions," said Jenn Bruno, who owns two high-end fashion stores, Luca Bruno and DUE Luca Bruno, with her husband, Luca Bruno, in Vail Village. "It's a wait-and-see attitude. I met a lot of people who made last-minute reservations after the snow, but there are certain families and groups who will come every year."
Some of the obvious groups who fall into that category are the Latin American guests who seem to dominate the percentage of tourists in town between Christmas and New Year's Day. Bart-n-Yeti's owner Dennis Foley said "our south of the border friends made the holiday weeks great," while Bruno noticed that South American guests seemed to stay in town a little longer this year, "which was welcomed," she added.
At the Vail Cascade Resort and Spa, Director of Revenue Ami Hudgins sees the same trend. Coming off such a bad snow year last season has caused even more hesitation, she said.
"It's definitely been touch and go. It was slow through the beginning of December, but once we got snow, Christmas picked up pretty well, and January and February look really good," Hudgins said, adding that March is still looking a little sluggish in terms of reservations.
The fact that our ski resort towns are dependent on snow is obviously not a new trend, but our valley does appear to be "even more dependent on snow than we thought," said Chris Romer, executive director of the Vail Valley Partnership, the local business and chamber association.
Romer points out that reservations booking in November for all future dates were down, while reservations booked in December for future dates were up compared to last year. And the partnership's web sites vailonsale.com and visitvailvalley.com saw noticeable increases in traffic on the days in December when it snowed, Romer said.
"Bookings through our sites increased greatly on days with new snow," Romer said. "We tend to get more last-minute bookings, so this is logical."
Romer attributes a slower start to the holiday season, around Dec. 15-23, to school calendars, too. Schools were in the week before Christmas whereas last year they were already out for most of or all of that week, he said. That's something Bol owner Barry Davis noticed, too - he said the "season" started later because of the holiday school breaks.
Perhaps the newest trend this season that skiers and snowboarders are noticing is that tourists are increasingly interested in where to buy marijuana legally. In a discussion on the Vail Daily Facebook page, skiers and riders commented on the noticeable influx of inquiries about marijuana this season ever since voters in Colorado approved to legalize recreational use last November.
"I heard about tourists attempting to shop (at local medical marijuana dispensaries), especially around Christmas - they were, of course, denied," wrote Jamie Arellano. "It is much more common for a random tourist to ask about the ganja situation on lift rides now."
Jonathan Snowden calls the new trend weed tourism.
"Looks like the valley will be attracting many more tourists by selling more than snow," he said.
And Jon Roubik agrees with Arellano that tourists "from all over are definitely asking around about buying/smoking marijuana on a regular basis."
As the state tries to come up with the proper regulations on the legal use of recreational marijuana, some local municipalities are waiting in suspense. The town of Vail voted to temporarily ban marijuana businesses at its last town council meeting, including private clubs like the ones that have popped up in Denver and Boulder, until the state's regulations are clearly defined. Other municipalities around the state such as Fruita and Greenwood Village have also imposed temporary bans, although no municipality can ban marijuana outright now that state law has made some possession and use legal. The town of Vail plans to discuss the matter again this summer.
Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.