Mexicans flocking to ‘Rolls-Royce of skiing’ in Vail
April 12, 2009
VAIL ” As you pass by groups of people on Bridge Street this week, you’re probably more likely to overhear conversations in Spanish than in English.
That’s because it’s Semana Santa, or “Holy Week,” the seven days between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. While the holiday is technically only one week, Mexico, which is predominately Catholic, tends to observe the holiday with a two-week break from work and school, and many Mexicans choose to spend those days vacationing in Vail.
“It feels like you’re skiing someplace in Mexico,” Daniel Kogan said between drags of a cigarette on a recent evening outside of La Bottega, the restaurant and bar in Vail Village.
The 22-year-old law student hails from Mexico City and has been vacationing in Vail annually with his extended family during Holy Week for the past 15 years.
Vail has long been known as a destination that has attracted international visitors. While Vail Resorts does not release statistics on the number of international guests at its resorts, Mexico is the company’s second-largest international market. (The first is the United Kingdom.)
“They’ve been coming to Vail for years,” said Pat Barret, international public-relations manager for Vail Resorts. “(Holy Week) is a good, fun week for them to all come up and see their friends.”
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The history of Mexicans vacationing in Vail is almost as old as the resort itself. According to Barret, Mexicans have been vacationing in Vail since the ’60s or early ’70s, when a number of Mexican families made a substantial investment in Vail real estate. And, even to this day, that investment remains significant, as Mexican families own about 40 percent of private real estate in Vail, Barret said.
Naturally, skiing is a top attraction for these visitors from south of the border, but the activities off the mountain are equally attractive.
“We love the town, love the shopping, and it’s secure for the kids to be left alone,” said Marta Zambrano, who is visiting from Monterrey with her husband, Pablo, and their five children.
Pablo Zambrano said, “Vail has the best mountains in Colorado.”
Local business owners welcome visitors from Mexico during Holy Week, especially this year as the global financial crisis has taken a toll on many of Vail’s establishments.
“They’ve always been a loyal part of our clientele during specific times of the year,” said Matt Morgan, owner of Sweet Basil in Vail Village.
While he acknowledged that the current economic climate has affected his restaurant, he is grateful for the type of clientele who come here from Mexico and seem to be less conservative with their spending.
“This particular group of people seems to not be deterred and still seems to come out and enjoy their second homes,” Morgan said. “We’re certainly thankful to have their business.”
La Bottega is another establishment vacationing Mexicans frequent, and on any night during Holy Week, every table in the restaurant is occupied by a group of people speaking Spanish.
James Gall, La Bottega’s general manager, said that the restaurant has been extremely busy, especially between 11 p.m. and closing.
“For about 10 days or two weeks (this time of year), it gets full to the point where we can’t fit any more people in,” Gall said.
And these vacationers like to stay late, chef and owner Stephen Virion said.
“If we didn’t have to kick them out, then they’d be here until 6 a.m.,” Virion said.
Latin American visitors emphasized the customer service and friendly nature of those employees they encountered in Vail. From the in-town bus to Vail’s ski school, the vacationers raved about the friendly service they had received.
“Vail is a very good brand,” said Sion Soffer, the chief executive officer of Intelisis, a software company based in Mexico City. “It’s very well-positioned (in Mexico). It is considered the Rolls-Royce of skiing.”