Festivals aim to keep skiers involved through spring
It’s a supply-and-demand conundrum.
This time of year, when ski resorts traditionally get the most snow, skiers and riders are stashing their sticks and grabbing their irons and hiking shoes – shunning the slopes just when conditions are at their best.
Conversely, the early season’s pent-up demand has people lined up with shiny new equipment in hand, rearing to ride and ski on thin, man-made runs as the resorts fire up snow guns to provide the product when Mother Nature isn’t ready.
Why do people want to ski so early in the season and then give it up just when the going gets good? It’s a question local ski resorts can’t answer but are doing something about in the form of spring festivals aimed at keeping customers coming back for more.
Vail, beginning today, is hosting its first annual Spring Back to Vail festival. Today there is a relay race on the mountain and a free concert by Blues Traveler at Checkpoint Charlie. Next Saturday, former Bruce Springsteen sax player Clarence Clemons will perform in the Village.
Copper Mountain Resort is in the midst of its popular spring festival, Sunsation – a music-filled event designed to lure skiers and snowboarders to the slopes through closing day. Last weekend the festival kicked off with 6,000 visitors attending concerts and riding the lifts.
Those are good numbers for an April weekend, but it remains to be seen whether money spent by visitors will offset the cost of hosting the festival. Originally started as a two-day event, Sunsation was expanded this year to three weekends, culminating in the popular slope-side Eenie Weenie Bikini Contest.
“It costs the resort the same in daily operations to run through the end of the ski season whether we have 100 people or 10,000 people here, and Sunsation is a good way to bring them back to the areas,” said resort spokeswoman Jamie Wilson.
Occupied lift chairs are one thing, but the extra funds spent by spring visitors can boost revenues throughout the resort. Copper’s lodging was 100 percent full last weekend, Wilson said.
Years ago, Arapahoe Basin Ski Area capitalized on late spring skiers and has since become the traditional spring ski destination for locals and Colorado’s Front Range population.
Barbecues on “The Beach,” at the slope-side edge of the dirt parking lot, are a rite of spring, and ski area officials respond with plenty of events that have become benchmark events in the business: Shakin’ at The Basin, the Enduro and Locals’ Appreciation Day.
“Our business stays pretty steady throughout the year, but the mix changes in the spring, when destination skiers drop off after Easter and it’s mostly locals and Front Range skiers in May and beyond,” said A-Basin spokeswoman Leigh Hierholzer.
While A-Basin has been luring late-season skiers for years, the resort joined other local ski areas in artificially boosting its early season conditions. It spent $2 million in snowmaking to extend its season on the front end by six weeks. This year, the ski area opened Oct. 30, it’s earliest opening in history.
“We’re still benefiting from (snowmaking),” Hierholzer said. “The base will help us extend our season to July 4th.”
Back on this side of the pass, the returns for Spring Back are obviously not in yet. Some merchants, however, already fear the crowds won’t spend any money in their upscale stores and scare other potential customers off.