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Vail outdoor recreation seeing big increases

Golf, nordic, tennis and pickleball all seeing more use

The Vail Nordic Center saw big increases in use last winter.
Vail Recreation District special to the Vail Daily

This isn’t much of a surprise: People in the last year have gone all-in on outdoor recreation.

The latest data from the Vail Recreation District shows big jumps in use, and revenue, from the district’s golf, tennis and pickleball operations. Indoor activities, primarily at Dobson Ice Arena, have shown significant declines.

Vail Recreation District Director Mike Ortiz went over those numbers during Tuesday’s meeting between the district’s board and the Vail Town Council.



While the Vail Golf Club is still weeks from opening, Ortiz said golf pass sales are brisk this year, as they were last season.

The golf course “had a really good year,” Ortiz said. “It’s an activity you could to with social distancing.”



A ’phenomenal’ tennis season

Ortiz added that use was “phenomenal” last season at the town’s Bill Wright Tennis Center. And, Ortiz added, he expects that brisk business to continue into this season

Pickleball, which has grown quickly over the last decade or so, saw declines in drop-in use due to COVID-19 restrictions. There were no clinics, and league fees dropped. But, Ortiz said, pass sales more than doubled from 2019, and court rental fees jumped a whopping 743%.

While all the outdoor activities saw big jumps, indoor activities declined, particularly at Dobson Ice Arena.

Hockey revenue dropped by more than 30%, and special events revenue declined by more than 68% from the previous year. The same was true with the district’s food and beverage sales. Banquet revenue, driven in large part by weddings, declined 87%.


The town of Vail owns the recreation facilities in town and the district operates them. People in Vail for decades have been looking for a way to provide a fitness center in town.

Still no rec center

Ortiz told council members that district officials were recently approached by the owners of the Aria Spa about the district leasing that space. That facility shut down in March of 2020 and hasn’t reopened.

Recreation district board member Tom Saalfeld said he and his family used to belong to the club.

Saalfeld said district and Aria representatives started talking in the fall of 2020 about the district leasing the space. That led to a lot of number-crunching, as well as detailed in-person inspections. That led to a lease proposal from the facility’s owners.

“The terms were just not reasonable,” Saalfeld said. “It didn’t make financial sense for the district.”

Just the operating subsidy could be about $1.8 million per year. Ortiz said the district estimated that would add up to a subsidy of more than $5,000 per member.

In addition, Ortiz noted the age of the building and need for a number of capital improvements, and parking access could cost another $300,000 per year.

In the end, the board decided not to take on another aging facility, particularly with Dobson Ice Arena needing millions in improvements.

Council member Brian Stockmar said the decision not to go forward was the right one.

“It’s ugly,” Stockmar said. “The numbers just don’t add up to an opportunity for the town.”

That leaves the town still looking for a recreation center.

“We all want a recreation center,” Mayor Dave Chapin said. “We just need to keep looking.”

By the numbers

58%: Increase in 2020 Vail Golf Club passes from 2019.

137%: Increase in 2020 tennis court fee collections from 2019.

31.3%: Decline in 2020 hockey revenue from 2019.

469%: Vail Nordic Center rental sales increase in the 2020-2021 season from the previous season.

Source: Vail Recreation District


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