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Earlier school starts affect Vail Valley tourism profits

Luke Shields, 7, right, takes his turn on the mini golf course as his friends and family watch Saturday at Beaver Creek.
Dominique Taylor | dtaylor@vaildaily.com |

EAGLE COUNTY — The seemingly never-ending effort to make kids’ summer vacations shorter every year does more than annoy the youngsters. It also affects Vail Valley tourism.

While Front Range guests make up a significant share of winter visitors, the east side of the Continental Divide provides most of the summer’s business. With school already in session or starting this week at some of the state’s biggest school districts, local businesses are expecting at least a bit of a dip in the number of families coming to the valley.

“We do notice,” Manor Vail Lodge General Manager Bob McCleary said. “If everybody went (back to school) two weeks later it would be a big help.”

But, McCleary said, the summer lodging business for families is heavy on weekend visitors anyway, with the exception of youth sports tournaments that provide room rentals on weekdays.

“The impact is really late August through Labor Day,” McCleary said.

In Lionshead, Double Diamond Ski Shop general manager Matt Carroll said that store’s business tends to see more weekend spikes once school starts. On the other hand, Carroll said early school start dates don’t cut his business too much.

“We still see plenty of empty-nesters and younger couples without kids,” Carroll said.

Beaver Creek Stables owner Kimberly Adams said that business does notice a change once school starts. Like other businesses, though, Adams said her August business still has a number of newlyweds or older couples on its weekday rides.

“We still see plenty of families with young ones come to pet or feed the horses,” she said.

Adams echoed McCleary’s view that a later school start time would be good for her business.

“It would be huge for us,” Adams said. “It would be so fun, especially as trees start to change.

“But they didn’t ask us,” she added.

In at least one state, lobbying from tourism interests pushed state law toward later start dates.

Michigan in 2005 passed a state law decreeing that public schools couldn’t start until after Labor Day.

So why does school start in early to mid-August in so many districts? The answer, in at least one case, has to do with ending the fall semester before the Christmas season break.

That’s the explanation given on the Littleton Public Schools website on a question-and-answer page.

“The earlier start time for the school year allows for more preparation time for Advanced Placement (AP), ACT, PSAT and SAT exams,” the page states. “The later the start date in August, the more preparation time lost for students who take Advanced Placement courses. (Those) exams are given on national test dates, over which (the district) has no control.”

High school sports and other extracurricular activities also play a role in school start times, the site states. Practice schedules and games are controlled by the Colorado High School Activities Association.

Most students in Eagle County start school Aug. 20, but kids who participate in sports started practice at least a week before that date. In fact, Eagle Valley High School’s boys’ golf team is already well into its season.

While academics and athletics seem to have the upper hand in the constant battle for family time, Carroll said he still sees several families taking long-weekend trips once school has started.

“Even after Labor Day, we see a lot of four-and five-day trips. We plan on being summer-staffed through September.”

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2939 or at smiller@vaildaily.com.


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