Holiday business up … way up |

Holiday business up … way up

Cliff Thompson
Skiers park along the South Frontage Road during the busy holiday weekend.

Unofficial anecdotal evidence suggests as many as 21,000 skiers and snowboarders used Vail Mountain Jan. 1. If so, that’s an all-time record.

Because the ski company does not release skier numbers for fear of affecting the price of its publicly-traded stock and running afoul of Securities and Exchange Commission regulations, other indicators of success have been employed for this story.

One indicator of how busy the resorts were is the volume of wastewater treated at local sewer plants. A second, though less reliable, indictor is the number of vehicles parked along Vail’s Frontage Road and along U.S. Highway 6 at the base of Beaver Creek. A third comes from local retailers.

Nearly all sources indicate the season was busier than last year – and even the year before. It’s just a question of how much.

Last year, holiday skier numbers at Vail and Beaver Creek were down 7 percent, and many businesses felt the pinch.

Rick Dilling of the West Vail Texaco said his holiday business was exceptionally busy.

“It was busier than normal. Our gas sales were up nearly 25 percent, and everything else was busy, too,” he said.

Lodges were full, too. Last year, for the first time in memory, there were some lodging vacancies in the Vail Valley during the Christmas holiday.

Go with the flow

Wastewater treatment plants in Vail and Avon posted record numbers, said Bob Trueblood, wastewater manager for Eagle River Water and Sanitation.

In previous years, the volume of wastewater discharged has been used to determine the number of people in the valley. But the drought this year has reduced the infiltration of groundwater into Vail’s sewer lines, reducing the total volume of wastewater treated. In lieu of that, organic material was compared.

“Flows don’t necessarily tell the story,” Trueblood said, adding that groundwater leaks into sewer pipes and treated water out of drinking water pipes.

The organic loading at the Vail and Avon’s wastewater plants both showed a 22.6 percent increase over the 2000-01 ski season and a 36 percent increase over last year.

With a little creative arithmetic based on average per-person, per-day numbers, Trueblood said 23,600 people were in the Vail area during the 14-day Christmas holiday period. That compares to 16,600 last year and 20,300 the previous season.

But the overflow of people from the holidays is spreading farther afield. Outflow of the Edwards wastewater treatment plant, with its new, tight sewer lines, with very little groundwater infiltration, jumped 50 percent for 10 days during the holiday season, Trueblood said. The outflow bumped from 1 million gallons per day to 1.56 million. Flows Tuesday had dropped to 1.1 million.

“Everybody came into town and then left,” he said.

Car count

Based on the number of cars parked along the South Frontage Road in Vail, things were busy during the holiday. Those cars, it is generally acknowledged, reflect day skiers.

At times the lines of cars last week stretched from the golf course clubhouse to just west of Cascade Village, but they were just on the north side of the road. In Avon, the overflow from the Beaver Creek parking lots ran nearly half a mile along Highway 6.

But the volume of vehicles in Vail didn’t even come close to the record of more than 1,200 cars set last year, when Vail Resorts offered discounted skiing, said Vail transportation manager Mike Rose.

“We were averaging 300 to 350 cars through the holiday,” he said. “We didn’t fill up as many times as I thought we would. Our new parking plan seemed to work.”

Retail experience

In Avon, Robin Pieters of Mountain Clothing said her woman’s clothing store wasn’t that busy during the holiday.

“The trickle-down effect finally hit the locals’ pocketbook,”

Pieters said. “I felt there weren’t nearly as many people spending money this year. Since I cater to locals, I knew they wouldn’t be spending as much It wasn’t a big surprise. That’s business.”

Gary Boris, co-owner of Montauk Seafood Restaurant in Lionshead and Vista Restaurant in Avon, said the crowds in Vail were consistent with those of most Christmas holidays.

“When you’re full, you’re full,” he said. “There’s not that much more growth you can have during the holidays.”

Boris said, however, he did notice an intangible – the attitude of locals and visitors about the volume of snow.

“As soon as it started snowing in November you saw a better attitude,” he said.

At his Avon restaurant, Boris said the business was good but he still has room to grow.

“We’re still a growing restaurant with growth potential,” he said.

Avon businesswoman Nancy Rehder of the Linen Kist, who returned to the business after a six year hiatus, felt it was a good holiday season.

“It’s busier than it was when I left,” she said. “It’s definitely up a notch.”

On Vail’s Bridge Street, it looked to be a pretty good holiday season, too.

Ghiqui Hoffman, owner of the Laughing Monkey women’s clothing store saw a moderate increase in business this year.

“We ended slightly up for the Christmas season, which I’m very happy with,” she said.

At Beaver Creek’s Golden Eagle Restaurant, manager Don Bird reported it was as busy or busier than he’s ever seen.

“December was behind last year going into Dec. 20, but it ended up stronger than last year. We made up a lot of ground in the last 10 days,” he said. “It was quicker to drop off than last year, too.”

Bird said this season he’s seeing the return of destination guests who avoided flying last year because of terrorist concerns.

“Looks like we’ve got a good year in the making,” added Boris.

Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555 ext 450 or

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