Mountain tourism ‘a glass half full’ |

Mountain tourism ‘a glass half full’

Janice Kurbjun
summit daily news
Special to the Daily/Forrest Miller-Copper MountaiWhile Arapahoe Basin and Loveland Ski Area are busy making snow to open to the public as soon as possible, Copper Mountain is already hosting some race teams for training starting Saturday. By the looks of things, some skiers and riders have already gotten a jump on it.

BRECKENRIDGE – The catch phrase for a presentation on the mountain economy at Thursday’s SKi Area COO Breakfast at Beaver Run Resort in Breckenridge was “Less bad is the new good.”

The breakfast, coordinated by the Breckenridge Resort Chamber and Summit County Chamber of Commerce, was an opportunity for members of the community to stay informed of happenings at Summit County’s ski areas and get an idea of how destination ski crowds can drive a stronger local economy. Chief operating officers and general managers at Arapahoe Basin, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Keystone and, for the first time in several years, Loveland, shared news and plans for the 2010-11 season and into the future.

Event organizers originally anticipated 150 breakfast attendees. But Breckenridge Resort Chamber director of membership Jennifer Goldstein estimated the crowd at more than 300 – a huge success, she said.

“Less bad is the new good” was the bottom line for MTRiP, LLC founder Ralf Garrison, who presented on the past, present and future of the ski industry affecting local growth. The phrase was meant to say there’s a glimmer of hope for the mountain travel industry, as shown by slightly positive trends since the “systemic financial meltdown” of 2008, Garrison said. MTRiP, which stands for Mountain Travel Research Program, focuses on collecting market intelligence that can provide economic assessments and forecasts.

Garrison showed encouraging data for local retailers, lodging entities and other Summit County economic businesses – reservations are already up for nearly every month of the 2010-11 season.

The 2008/09 figures reflected a 15 percent drop in occupancy and a 9 percent drop in rates for destination crowds, with skier visits down 5 percent, or to 57.4 million from 60.5 million the year prior.

Those figures reflect less severe decreases than most stocks and data for other sports that year, Garrison said.

And positive trends are emerging since the 2008 situation. MTRiP research showed an increase last season of 1 percent over 2008-09’s occupancy. This summer, there was another 5 percent increase in occupancy, representing continued growth in lodging numbers since the meltdown. Lodging rates, however, were down 6 percent in 2009-10. But Garrison pointed out it wasn’t as much of a drop as the year prior. Last year’s skier visits improved about 4 percent, to 59.7 million, last year.

“Just a reminder, though,” Garrison said. “We were jumping a low bar.”

But even if the market is seemingly regenerating at the pace of trees growing in the forest, Garrison said “I’d rather be where you are than others places in the marketplace because of the resilience of the industry.”

Garrison predicted a “modest recovery” in the next 24 months, particularly with numbers that are already in for reservations.

“The greater economy is a glass half empty,” Garrison said. “The tourism and mountain industry is a glass half full.”

SDN reporter Janice Kurbjun can be contacted at (970) 668-4630 or at

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