Airport traffic, hotel bookings up for Vail |

Airport traffic, hotel bookings up for Vail

The Eagle County airport is packed with private planes and jets of tourists visiting the winter mountains for the holidays as seen here Tuesday in Gypsum.
Justin McCarty | |

VAIL — Holiday business is brisk, say local business leaders, citing good snow and a recovering economy.

“Business is real good. I’m happy to be able to say that. It’s been a good season so far, both at the airport and the private aviation side at the Vail Valley Jet Center,” said Greg Phillips, Eagle County Regional Airport director.

Take last weekend, for example. On Saturday, Dec. 21, the Eagle County Regional Airport saw more people arrive in one day than the entire month of May, Phillips said.

“The Air Canada is doing well, as are the rest of our flights,” Phillips said.

The weather has cooperated, and that helps. While other airports have seen flights canceled, Eagle County has had none of that.

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In fact on Dec. 21, the airport set a new record with 44 operations in one hour — that’s aircraft landing and taking off.

“We had some weather delays, but no cancellations,” Phillips said. “It’s been a great winter. Having good snow always helps. It’s our version of ‘Make hay when the sun shines.’”

Private plane traffic soaring

The Vail Valley Jet Center hosts private planes, and during the holidays it is hosting lots and lots of private planes.

The Jet Center is up 25 percent over last year in fuel sales.

On New Year’s Eve, 165 aircrafts were parked on the ramp over night.

The Vail Valley Jet Center is enjoying double-digit growth this year over last, said Paul Gordon, with the Jet Center.

The Jet Center started using a program that allows its private aviation customers to come and go as they please, instead of reserving a takeoff or landing slot with the FAA. That limited the times that planes could land and the Jet Center’s customer’s ability to come to town, Gordon said.

Skiing and staying

Vail Mountain’s carrying capacity is 19,900 skiers, the number of people the mountain can handle and preserve the guest experience, said Dave Neely, of the U.S. Forest Service’s White River National Forest.

That number, 19,900, is the number of skiers that can be on Vail Mountain and it’s still fun to be there, Neely said. Vail hasn’t gone over that number this holiday season, and Neely got a first-hand look, spending Tuesday showing people Forest Service improvements on Vail Mountain.

“People are having a good time up there,” he said.

The snowpack on Vail Mountain is better than it has been in years, or at least it feels that way. It’s 87 percent of normal, according to SNOTEL data collected on Vail Mountain.

That measurement is calculated based on information collected during the past 30 years, said Diane Johnson, of the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District.

Hotel occupancies are up over last year for the holiday season, said Chris Romer, of the Vail Valley Partnership.

“Last year was quite strong the first week of January due to school break schedules,” he said. “We will likely match or be a bit below for that week. But the month of December, as well as the holiday week are very strong. This should correlate to strong retail and restaurant numbers.”

The true measure of a crowd is determined by how much water we use. Dec. 31 is historically the busiest day of the year for people who treat and purify all the water we use, and this year was no different, Johnson said.

The wastewater treatment plants in Vail and Avon and both running about 10 percent ahead of last year on the same days. In Avon, water use is almost double the amount used two weeks ago, Johnson said.

During these times of years there are two peaks each day, one when people get up in the morning and a second in the afternoon when the mountain closes.

Snow is Great, economics are better

Good snow is great, but a good economy is better, according to a study from Vail Resorts.

A report to investors compares snowfall to skier numbers for its four Colorado resorts — Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone — from 1999-2000 through 2009-10, the depths of the recession.

Skier numbers depend far less on snow than they used to, the report says.

It breaks out like this:

• 2007-08 saw almost 400 inches of snowfall, far more than the 280 inches that fell the year before.

• But 5.5 million people visited Vail Resorts’ four Colorado resorts in 2006-07, compared to 5.2 million in 2007-08.

• Then the recession hit in 2008, and snow levels fell along with the economy.

• Snow levels reached 340 inches in 2008-09, but ski numbers were relatively stable in the face of the economy and poor snow, falling to 5 million across the four resorts.

• In 2009-10, snow levels were wretched when only 240 inches fell. Still, 5.1 million skiers visited the four resorts.

It’s still a ski company

The report also quantifies the obvious; Vail Resorts really is a ski company.

The company reported $868.6 million in total revenue for fiscal year 2010. The company splits that between resort revenue and real estate.

Of that, $807.6 million was resort revenue (lift tickets, lodging, retail/rental, dining, ski school and “other”); $61 million came from real estate in 2010.

The company says its resorts attract upper end clientele and that it enjoys high guest retention, which enables what it calls “premium pricing.”

At the time of the report, 2010, average household income exceeded $200,000 across Vail Resorts properties, and exceeds $300,000 at Beaver Creek, the report says.

Across the rest of the ski industry, only 19 percent of skiers report household income at, or above, $200,000.

“Limited competition together with a passionate customer base mitigates cyclicality, compared to other travel and leisure companies,” the report said. “Vail Resorts performed well in the recession.”

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and

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