Aspen, Snowmass skier visits up slightly in early season |

Aspen, Snowmass skier visits up slightly in early season

Aspen TimesA foursome heads up Aspen Highlands on an early-season powder day. Skier visits in the early going were up 2.5 to 5 percent, according to the Aspen Skiing Co.

ASPEN, Colorado – The Aspen Skiing Co. fared better than Colorado ski resorts as a whole during the opening months of the season, according to reports released Tuesday.

The number of skier visits was up 1 percent through Dec. 31 at the 22 member resorts of Colorado Ski Country USA, the trade association said Tuesday.

“It’s a solid start,” said Colorado Ski Country President and CEO Melanie Mills.

Vail Resorts, which doesn’t belong to the trade group, reported that its skier visits at its four Colorado resorts plus Heavenly in California were down 2.7 percent compared to last season through Jan. 6. The company operates some of the biggest resorts in Colorado – Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone.

The Aspen Skiing Co. estimated its visits during the opening period were up between 2.5 and 5 percent. “In general, we were stronger than Ski Country,” said Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle.

The company can only give a range for skier visits through Dec. 31. It has a new electronic gate system which scans lift tickets and season passes more thoroughly than the old methods, Hanle said. The company is examining the data to make sure it is making accurate year-to-year comparisons, he said.

Colorado Ski Country said snow conditions helped influence early season turnout. Ample early season snow helped many resorts open early, but a dry period for northern resorts and those closest to the Front Range “limited first period visitation to some degree.” On the other hand, the resorts in the southwest part of the state were clobbered with snowstorms, boosting their visits.

Aspen was sort of between the two patterns. It got more snow than Vail and resorts along the Interstate 70 corridor, but not nearly as much as Purgatory [Durango], Silverton and Wolf Creek.

“We were on the northern border of the good snow,” Hanle said.

Both Hanle and Colorado Ski Country reported that international business appears strong this season. The recession nipped the number of foreign travelers last season.

“We started seeing international business even in December,” Hanle said.

Neither the Skico nor the state association released actual skier visits. The numbers are unveiled at the end of the season.

Mills sounded a word of caution about expecting too much this season as the national economy continues to sputter. “We are seeing some positive signs this year but are not breaking out the bubbly just yet,” Mills said in a press release. “Travelers are booking their trips very close to the time they plan to travel, so it’s hard to predict our future.”

The Aspen Skiing Co.’s preseason forecast called for business to be flat compared to last winter, when skier visits were down 7.6 percent. Hanle said Skico officials aren’t adjusting their outlook.

“We’re just hoping we’re going to do better than the forecast,” Hanle said.

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