Observers hopeful booking patterns will shift |

Observers hopeful booking patterns will shift

Lauren Glendenning
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado – When summer ends in the mountains, one thing starts to come to the forefront of many people’s minds: snow.

Labor Day weekend marks the unofficial end of summer. There might be more 80-degree sunny days ahead, but summer is generally over after this weekend.

With the memory of one of the worst snow seasons on record still so fresh, many snow sports enthusiasts and families thinking about their annual ski vacations are still wary about 2012-13.

Hotel reservations for the winter season as of this weekend are pacing much slower than in years past, but those who pay attention to that sort of thing aren’t too worried – yet.

While the booking pace is slower than the same time last year and in 2010, it’s about a month too early to do a statistical analysis, said Ralf Garrison, director of the Denver-based Mountain Travel Research Program, which studies economics in Western mountain resort towns.

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“There are two wild cards out there that affect how consumers fell about going on vacations anywhere: one is the economy, and the other is weather,” Garrison said. “So we watch with interest every year as those two come to pass.”

The factors either contribute to a tide that is rising or one that is falling, he said, but the real analysis comes after winter reservations made in September are on the books.

The good news is that it’s an election year, a factor that often results in more widespread optimism.

“Optimists are more optimistic for prospects for change around an election,” Garrison said.

The economy has been generally improving, albeit very slowly, but the remnants of last winter’s abysmal snowfall totals are likely still lingering, he added.

“We know the previous year did not meet the consumer’s expectations,” Garrison said.

Chris Romer, the executive director of the Vail Valley Partnership, and Garrison both point toward historical snow consistency, though, as a reason Vail and Beaver Creek will do fine as reservations and skier visits pan out for 2012-13.

“Our historical snow and consistent on-mountain product – grooming, snowmaking, etc. – should allow us to have more equity (brand strength) than other resorts,” Romer said via email. “This should probably play out until the snow starts flying. I expect that we’ll see a later booking pattern throughout the fall and into early ski season and then it will return to normal.”

Garrison looks at the booking patterns this year as a pre-November booking period based on snow equity – meaning a period based on the perception of a resort’s general reputation – and a post-November/opening day booking period in which consumers will make decisions based on snow. Garrison calls that the reality-based booking season.

The early so-called snow equity booking season is important for Vail and Beaver Creek because they’re both resorts with great reputations for not only snow, but also for service and for numerous off-mountain activities and attractions. Resorts with great grooming and snowmaking – Vail and Beaver Creek consistently top those best-of lists – also bode well in seasons that follow poor snow seasons.

“That (snow equity booking season) benefits the people who have a good reputation,” Garrison said. “… Those are the resorts that appear to be getting the benefit (based on current data).”

The low elevation coastal resorts like Squaw Valley or Mammoth, where snow is less of a sure thing, tend to suffer the most in the early booking seasons that follow bad snow years, Garrison said.

And, with Vail’s 50th anniversary season upon us, Romer thinks the opportunities this season are “incredible.”

“I expect that the new gondola, 50th anniversary, etc., will position us very nicely to have a great year,” Romer said. “… I’m optimistic.”

Vail Resorts hasn’t released its season pass sales data since its third quarter earnings report in early June. The report, spring season pass sales for the 2012-13 season were up about 17 percent in units and about 22 percent in dollars through May 29.

Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or

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