It’s still easy: Snow equals people in the Vail Valley |

It’s still easy: Snow equals people in the Vail Valley

NWS The Beav Opens 1 DT 11-24-10

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – The idea is as old as Vail itself: When it snows, the switchboard lights up. These days, though, the switchboard has been replaced with the Internet, and it’s a lot easier to know when Vail’s getting snow.

The Vail Valley’s early snow – which just about everyone agrees is the best in ages – has lit up the Internet switchboards in a big way. The Vail Valley Partnership’s Vail on Sale website – which puts out bargain lodging to book no more than three weeks in advance – is buzzing so far this season, up 23 percent over this period last year.

The snow has the phones and computers buzzing at the Sonnenalp in Vail Village, too.

“More snow means more calls,” reservations manager Patricia McNamara said. “It really is that simple.”

Even at the Sonnenalp, which is a “destination” kind of lodge, people are booking and traveling on short notice – except around the holidays, of course. That means McNamara and her staff stay busy getting out information about ski conditions through e-mails and social media.

But even marketing can’t replace old-fashioned buzz.

“I was at a meeting in Denver last week, and all everybody wanted to talk about was the snow,” Manor Vail General Manager Bob McCleary said.

Not too long ago, people much farther away than the Front Range would have to depend on things like the Denver Broncos playing a national TV game in a blizzard to get much exposure for a snowstorm. Longtime veterans of the lodging business still speak in hushed tones about the flood of calls that followed a Monday night game against Green Bay in 1984.

These days, though, people with a passion are following the snow on their own, through online weather reports, mountain cameras and other technology. If the snow is epic, it’s easy enough to book a flight and lodging Thursday for a weekend trip.

There’s another side to that coin, of course.

“When it stops snowing, they hear about that, too,” McCleary said.

And, unlike the old days, it’s easy to know if a resort is fudging its conditions before anyone books a flight.

“It really keeps people honest,” Vail Valley Partnership Executive Director Chris Romer said. “If you mis-portray yourself in any way, people are going to know.”

Romer is a big believer in the technology available to travelers today. He’s convinced that gadgets like iPhone applications and Vail Resorts’ EpicMix will create an even more passionate customer base.

“People want to show off,” Romer said. “And they want to go to places with the best snow.”

But it all comes back to snow.

“It sets the stage for everything else,” Romer said.

And that “everything” is as simple as walking out of the Ford Hall parking lot to see snow gently falling on the plaza.

“Snow is a frame of mind,” Romer said. “It affects everything from the perceived guest experience to happier employees. It puts everyone in happy places.”

The valley’s happy places get even more happy when the snow comes early. It can set the tone for an entire season.

“We’ve had as good a first few weeks as I can remember,” Romer said. “There’s a real vitality out there.”

At Manor Vail, McCleary said bookings for December and January are ahead of last year, and people are starting to book their winter holidays.

Earlier this week, Sitzmark Lodge general manager Jeanne Fritch reported that small hotel is booked for Christmas week.

With the lodging scene looking better than it has for some time, it’s easy to have a good feeling about the season to come – as long as the snow keeps falling.

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or

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