Beaver Creek not suffering skier shortage
BEAVER CREEK, Colorado ” The specter of a recession isn’t keeping people off the slopes at Beaver Creek.
The resort saw more than 11,000 skiers on the mountain again Wednesday, the third time in four days that high-water mark has been reached.
“As far as skier numbers go, I don’t think we can ask for a much better situation relative to what the crystal ball was looking like a month ago,” said Tony O’Rourke, executive director of the Beaver Creek Resort Co.
Vail Resorts, which runs Beaver Creek Mountain, doesn’t release skier numbers prior to its quarterly earnings report. But the company does tell the Forest Service, which owns much of Beaver Creek Mountain, when skier numbers surpass its “manage to” number of 11,000 skiers on the mountain at one time.
The threshold was reached Sunday, Monday and Wednesday during a period of sunny, bluebird days that followed big snowfalls.
So far, this year’s big days resemble last year’s pattern. Last year, Beaver Creek topped 11,000 skiers eight times, on Dec. 30, Dec. 31, Jan. 2, Jan. 3, Feb. 17, March 1, March 16 and March 17.
Of course, last year’s economy was much different than the economy of today. This year, the ski company, hoteliers, restaurateurs and other retailers have offered deals to bring skiers to the Beav’.
“Clearly, the Epic Pass has had some impact,” O’Rourke said, referring to the new, discount, unrestricted pass introduced by Vail Resorts last spring.
This year, as usual, Beaver Creek is seeing lots of “destination” visitors, who come for vacations from across the country and the world, O’Rourke said.
Scott Gubrud, director of sales and marketing at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek, said the hotel has used various discounts and promotions to attract skiers. Occupancy in December is about the same as it was last December, he said.
“It’s been busy,” Gubrud said. “It certainly doesn’t feel like an off holiday period for us, just in the terms of the level of activity.”
And great snow doesn’t hurt, either. Beaver Creek saw a record amount of snowfall in December.
Meanwhile, Vail Mountain hasn’t reached its “manage to” number this year or last year. But that isn’t because Vail Mountain isn’t seeing crowds.
Cars have been parked on Vail’s frontage roads ” which happens when the 2,300 parking spaces in the town’s public garages fill ” seven times so far this year, said Mike Rose, Vail parking and transit manager.
Vail’s seeing about the same number of cars in town as it did last year, Rose said.
“The (garage) transaction numbers are about the same,” he said. “The frontage road numbers are a little lower, but our bus ridership is up.”
Beaver Creek may surpass its “manage to” number more often because its number is too low, said Don Dressler, snow ranger for the U.S. Forest Service.
“That 11,000 was based on old lift technology,” Dressler said. “Now that you have high-speed quads and a gondola out of the Hyatt, your uphill access has been improved.”
The number may be increased soon, Dressler said.
Dressler said lots of skiers were expected this week because schools are out and it’s a big vacation time. It’s hard to say how many more days Beaver Creek will see spikes in skier numbers, though Presidents Day and Martin Luther King Day weekends are likely to be busy, as usual, he said.
Hotel reservations are relatively good ” even if people are waiting till the last minute to book ” and restaurant numbers are fairly strong, O’Rourke said.
“Even in recessions, you have to eat,” O’Rourke said.
Brian Nolan, whose company operates the Beaver Creek Chophouse, Foxnut Sushi and Blue Moose Pizza, all in Beaver Creek, said he’s seen good crowds in his restaurant, and he praised the efforts of local lodges and the wider community to bring more people to town.
“Spending is down a little, but that is the world today,” Nolan said. “We are thrilled that these folks have decided to vacation and ski here, and truly appreciate their business.”
But Beaver Creek hasn’t been completely isolated from the economy, O’Rourke said.
“We’ve clearly seen impacts of the recession, particularly in the retail sector,” he said. “We’ve definitely seen a reduction in demand there. … People are just very reticent to spend a lot of money during these times.”
Despite that notion, Joe Liefer, hard goods manager at Christy Sports in Beaver Creek, said a burst of business over the last few busy days has been a great thing.
“The last three or four days have definitely eased a lot of tension in the shop,” he said.
Vail Resorts spokeswoman Jen Brown said she can’t comment on how business is shaping up this year.
“What I can say is that we are focused on providing our guests with an exceptional experience during the holidays,” she said.
Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 970-748-2929 or firstname.lastname@example.org.