EAGLE COUNTY — Snow is a good thing. As if we needed further proof of that high country truth, just look at last weekend — and the ski season so far, for that matter.
For casual observers, the most obvious sign of a busy day in Vail is the number of cars parked on South Frontage Road. On Jan. 11, a Saturday, the town’s two public parking structures filled in the morning, pushing day-tripping skiers to the frontage road. By early afternoon, cars were parked everywhere along the road.
Rob LeVine, general manager of the Antlers lodge in Lionshead, provided a treat to a small group he spotted getting out of their car and struggling with their equipment, offering the group one of the few vacant spots at the lodge he runs.
That was literally a one in 1,000 stroke of luck for those motorists, since more than 1,000 cars were parked along the road that day. This, by the way, comes in a traditionally slower portion of the tourism calendar between New Year’s Day and the Martin Luther King birthday holiday.
Lots And Lots of Snow
Why did those people come? Snow, of course, and lots of it. After a couple of snow years that ranged from dreadful to spotty, the central Rockies have good early-season snow for the first time in several years — remember, the epic season of 2010-11 was fairly dry until January.
This past weekend was the middle portion of a week of typical Vail Valley snow — no massive snow dumps, but a few inches a day during a week or more. People found out, and came in droves.
Mark Najera, general manager of the Holiday Inn in West Vail, said last weekend, and the season so far, have been “way ahead” of last year’s booking numbers.
“We’ve had a lot of last-minute bookings,” Najera said, adding that there weren’t many rooms available for those last-minute travelers because the hotel was already mostly full due to the annual Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines festival.
But last-minute bookings have been coming in fairly large numbers. The Vail Valley Partnership, the valley’s chamber of commerce and tourism bureau, runs Vail on Sale, a website that offers deals to people booking just a few days before they travel.
Partnership CEO Chris Romer said the Vail on Sale numbers have shown solid to double-digit growth during the same period a year ago. Overall reservations for the entire valley have been up, too. Romer said data from DestiMetrics, a Denver-area consulting company, showed double-digit percentage gains in December reservations.
Again, thank the snow. Good early-season snow — along with strong marketing — has driven people to resorts in numbers not seen in a few years. For instance, December’s average daily traffic numbers from the Eisenhower/Johnson Tunnels on Interstate 70 were the best seen there since 2010.
Airport Traffic Up, Too
Airport passenger numbers have been solid, too. Eagle County Aviation Director Greg Phillips said full numbers for the Christmas and New Year’s period aren’t yet available, but he said that operations — takeoffs and landings, including private aircraft — have increased “significantly” during the past year. And, Phillips said, he believes commercial passenger numbers have been solid during the period.
Those airline numbers may also include some of the people booking at the last minute for an impromptu ski weekend. Romer said Vail on Sale has recorded a number of bookings from out-of-state customers. Whether those people are grabbing last-minute flights is hard to pin down. But it’s safe to assume at least some people are booking rooms and flights in the days before traveling.
That’s mostly due to snow. Joel Gratz, a forecaster at www.OpenSnow.com, recently reported that much of the state is set for a dry spell lasting at least until Jan. 25. The Weather Channel’s long-range forecast agrees with Gratz and is calling for daytime high temperatures no warmer than 35 degrees in Vail, so the snow we have should stick on the mountains fairly well until we’re hit by the next wave of snow — and skiers.