EAGLE COUNTY - Weekends when the valley's parking lots are full are good for business. When weekends turn into weeks, business is booming.
The Vail Valley has entered a three-week stretch when full planes will turn into full shops, restaurants and lodges. Spring break for many families starts this week, and continues through the end of the month. The next three weeks will also see planes full of visitors from Mexico, Brazil and other Latin American countries, coming to the Vail Valley to celebrate the traditional two-week break the week before and after Easter.
While the exact numbers won't be known until later in the spring, Eagle County Regional Airport Aviation Director Greg Phillips said the initial reports he's seeing show full planes coming to the valley over the next few weeks.
Mechelle Cappel, co-owner of Eagle-based Elite Limousine, said her company's reservation bookings mirror Phillips' information - bookings are filling fast for the next few weeks.
Some of those reservations are coming from clients flying to the valley on private jets. Those people, who are able to set their own schedules and destinations, tend to chase snow during ski season, Cappel said. The fact they're flying into Eagle County shows that this year's snow - not great, but better-timed than last year's meager totals - shows a degree of interest in the valley.
That interest is shared by families flying in for spring break or Easter.
"Those people are coming partly because of snow, and also because they're vested in the valley," Cappel said.
People on those planes tend to stay longer and spend more than the visitors who drive up from the Front Range. That's good for everyone from limo drivers to restaurant and gallery owners and everyone in between.
Ron Riley, who owns Russell's Steakhouse and Los Amigos in Vail, said the March crowds are a significant part of the valley's overall economic picture. But, he said, people flying in for spring break are a little harder to spot than those who have driven to the valley - except for the drivers who stay longer.
Evidence of the Latin American presence is here this weekend as more Spanish is heard being spoken around town. Riley said most of his restaurants' Latin American guests end up at Russell's. And those guests tend to spend.
Riley said when the Spanish-speaking guests are in the valley, the average cost per person on a dinner ticket at Russell's will go up by dollars from year to year. A good bump is usually measured in cents, he said.
Those guests, who still make up a relatively small portion of the total number of people coming to the valley, are now coming for more than just the traditional religious holidays, Riley said.
"It's a wonderful development," Riley said, adding the Latin American guests are visiting throughout both winter and summer months now.
Latin American guests are also an important part of business at Luca Bruno's two clothing stores in Vail.
"They're very important, for every business," Bruno said. "They really help the Vail economy."
Renee Gibbs, the manager of Bruno's store in Solaris, agreed with her boss. Latin American customers' spending might be more noticeable because they find things at Bruno's stores they won't find elsewhere, Gibbs said.
Spring break crowds are similar, Gibbs said, but the Latin American customers' habits are more noticeable, she said.
Bill Rey, owner of the Claggett-Rey Gallery in Vail Village, said foreign customers aren't a big part of his business - at least not now. Regardless, the next three weeks are "really the climax" of the winter season, Rey said.
His gallery's business volume rises during the spring break and Easter weeks, but he credits the sheer volume of people in the valley rather than the arrival of any particular group of people.
"Just to have the volume is important," Rey said. "And March is really similar to Christmas - it's game on for everybody."