Offseason not as slow as years past
It’s a sunny Monday afternoon in Vail, a time of day when hundreds of people can usually be seen carrying skis, drinking beer on restaurant decks or carrying shopping bags full of merchandise.
But it’s mud season now, that inevitable time of year just after the ski season when tourists (and many locals) disappear ” along with their money. Local businesses must face the prospect of fewer shoppers, equaling fewer profits for most.
On this particular day only a handful of people can be seen walking up and down Bridge Street, most straining to see inside of clothing shops or galleries, not wanting to actually set foot in them. Outside many of the stores stand racks of clothing or old skis marked down for end-of-season sales. Inside those same shops are employees busy cleaning up or rearranging fixtures, things that normally can’t be done during the busiest times of the year.
But with a mountain still covered in snow and a weak American dollar, how much does the mud season actually affect locals and businesses? Perhaps more importantly, how does the slow season compare with those from decades past?
Kimosabe manager Lisa Angelo, who has lived in Vail for 14 years, says things have definitely gotten better.
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“More shops stay open as opposed to 10 years ago,” Angelo said. “I’ve seen it when it was really bad. Each year it got a little better.”
Her co-worker, Kristin Haar, agrees.
“I think the summer is consistently growing as far as tourists go,” said Haar, who has lived in Vail the past three years and seen what she considers a steady increase in summer business from out-of-towners. With only a handful of Vail businesses locking their doors for the mud season, it seems they have a point.
Angelo wears more than one hat during the offseason, she said, proudly playing tour guide to wandering strangers and serving as a helpful saleswoman to potential customers. All the same, she said she enjoys the change of pace that comes with the warmer weather and an empty mountain.
It’s predictable to Angelo, who has worked through plenty of mud seasons to know what to expect from them.
“We live in a resort town. Living in Cape Cod you’d go through the same thing. What are you going to do?” Angelo said.
Tourists appreciate mud season because they can walk around town on warm days, shop for discounted goods and get cheap hotel rates, nearly impossible tasks when the ski season is in full swing.
“We love staying open; it’s worth it,” Angelo said.
Across the street, Becky Magoon and Kim Hause, the mother/daughter owners of Covered Bridge Coffee, have different feelings. The late opening and early closing of Vail Mountain this season has cost them dearly, causing them to dip into the profits they earned over the season to pay the rent and keep from closing during this summer’s longer slow time.
Out of loyalty to locals and construction workers who come in every day, they are staying open even though they’ve seen the number of customers drop from over 1,000 per day during ski season to maybe 30 on a good day now. On top of that, they’ve been having to order larger amounts of food and supplies because of higher shipping and fuel rates. Unfortunately, a lack of space and clientele has caused them to end up wasting much more product, leading to even less profits.
“We’re not going to go under, but it’s not pleasant,” said Hause. She blames the early mountain closing, which drove away a lot of business prematurely, for their current struggle to make ends meet. Normally, Magoon and Hause agreed, it wouldn’t be quite so difficult to survive during mud season.
“It’s hard enough to stay in business out here anyway,” Magoon said.
Fair enough, but Rod Slifer has lived in Vail from the very beginning and remembers just how rough the mud season used to be on locals.
“The first couple years it was really called the mud season because the streets weren’t paved, they were dirt. So there truly was mud,” Slifer said.
He recalled how everybody would leave town once the ski season ended and all the shops would close up with the exception of one deli and a bar. Neither exist today.
Slifer moved to Vail in 1962 and founded his real-estate business in 1966. Since those days Vail has evolved and matured into the full-blown town it is today, a process that Slifer has seen all the way through.
“I think the biggest thing is that Vail now has developed into a community and people live here in the town of Vail,” Slifer said.
Parents with children in school, more permanent residents and a larger number of summertime tourists are some of the reasons that businesses can now stay open during the summer.
“You never know when somebody walks in and will buy a significant property,” said Slifer of his reasons for staying open year-round.
There are those who still deem it necessary to close, at least for a short time, once the ski lifts stop running.
A quick trip to Beaver Creek looks more like a visit to a ghost town than a booming ski resort. Almost nothing remains open from the time the mountain closes until mid-May. Chris Coleman, general manager of Base Mountain Sports, said that he closes the doors of his shop because there aren’t any customers.
“The bottom line is the amount of traffic we’re going to see, it’s just not worth it to be open. And myself as well as all the rest of the staff really deserve a break,” Coleman said.
Anyone who has spent a significant amount of time living in Vail can tell you that mud season as a whole isn’t what it used to be, whether they’ve just heard the legends or actually lived through it.
“Good Lord. In the early years we didn’t have a grocery store, we didn’t have a hospital, we didn’t have schools, we didn’t have anything,” Slifer said. “So, no, it’s a much better place, an easier place to live, a more fun place.” VT
High Life writer Charlie Owen can be reached at 970-748-2939 or firstname.lastname@example.org