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Meltdown

Staff Reports

Forget about unseasonably warm weather and lackluster snowfall, business owners have their eyes on the economy.The lack of snowfall, sunny skies and temperatures in the upper-30s to mid-40s across Eagle County aren’t the cause of their jitters, according to some business owners who rely on plenty of white stuff to help bolster sales.Nope, these merchants are pointing toward a sagging economy and volatile stock market as a reason to be nervous this ski season.&quotIt’s a little early for me to start worrying about the weather,&quot says Vail council member and Bart and Yeti’s owner Bill Jewitt. &quotI’m aware that this is turning into a slow year. But I think it’s more stock market driven than weather.&quotThe boyWhat started with phenomenal early season snowfall, portending promises of a strong, cash-rich season, has turned into early spring conditions that are seeing normally snow-covered upper Eagle River Valley floors giving way to mud puddles, and in some cases early green swatches of grass. That’s all thanks to the weather pattern we call El Nio (the boy).El Nio stirs up warm air over the Pacific Ocean and pushes in warm weather fronts across the Rocky Mountain West. Typically warmer, wetter air is expected to crawl across the West, potentially creating larger stashes of fresh snow than normal. But El Nio is working against the valley floor while the mountain slopes in Vail and Beaver Creek seem to be maintaining decent, skiable conditions.&quotFor the February, March and April outlooks, temperatures will be near normal,&quot says Kyle Fredin of the National Weather Service in Denver. &quotThese are real crude estimates, but there looks like a better chance for precipitation in those months.&quotBut there may be a catch. Fredin says El Nio would be more likely to push heavier snow over the southern Rocky Mountains, leaving the central ranges that’s Vail less than quenched.Despite the snowy start of the season, the most recent report by the state climatologists office indicate the snowpack in the upper Colorado River Basin, which includes the Eagle River, is 82 percent of average, making this another drought year in a growing string of them.But current weather conditions aside, lodge bookings look strong in February and March, according to several merchants, and they’re looking forward to solid numbers of warm bodies to accompany the warm air.But very few business owners seem to care if January has been a bit dry and toasty and looks like a strong argument for global warming. They emphasize they’re concerned about a what they say is a clear lack of tourist spending. Like Democratic political strategist James Carvell says, &quotIt’s the economy, stupid.&quot&quotWe’re feeling a difference in buying attitude,&quot says Colorado Footwear owner and Vail Chamber and Business Association president Steve Rosenthal.Rosenthal, while conscious that more snow is good for everyone, says consumers are just not shelling out the dough the way they used to in Vail.&quotIt used to be that someone would come in and see the same pair of shoes in three colors, have trouble deciding and buy all three. Now, they can’t decide and say they’ll return when they make up their mind, but don’t come back,&quot says Rosenthal.Last Tuesday, Jan. 28, news agencies around the country reported that the New York-based Conference Board Research Center said its consumer confidence index dropped to a nine-year low. With an unstable stock market and the threat of war, the report says consumers have grown cautious and consumer expectations for the next year have also dropped.&quotI’m scared right now,&quot says Vail’s Rosenthal. &quotNot personally, but that we’re going to go to war and we’re going to bite off more than we can chew.&quotAnd the reality of war isn’t doing much for the stock market either. Last Wednesday, Jan. 29, in the wake of President Bush’s State of the Union address, the Dow dipped below 8,000 points. It’s a volatile stock market, and consumers are tight fisted as a result.&quotPeople who don’t usually talk about the stock market are talking about the recent dips,&quot Jewitt says.Matthew Toth, a manager with the rental and retail shop Vail Ski Tech, says people are coming around to rent skis. That’s a testimonial to the fact that tourists are here to ski. But Toth also sees that retail spending is down this season.&quotFor the most part, we’re pretty close to what we were last year with rentals,&quot says Toth. &quotRetail could be better.&quotAs for the warm weather and snow, Toth says that, for his taste, &quotthe hill is getting thin.&quotThe extended forecast for Vail and the upper Eagle River Valley, according to weather.com, is more of the same. Warmer temperatures and predictions for light snow off and on throughout early February will be the norm. As for the economic forecast, so far that looks like more of the same as well.&quotSure, I’m worried about the weather to the fact that we need a great snow,&quot Rosenthal says. &quotBut I think it’s all about the economy.”


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