Singing the mud season blues
Whether or not they want to admit it, High Country business owners see a
slowdown in late April and May.
The common solution used to be simple: Shut down for six weeks and come
back when summer tourists begin to visit. Many restaurants and hotels
still do that, but as the shoulder season shortens, some business owners
Participate in The Longevity Project
The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.
have experimented with different ways to stay in the black during mud
Two-for-one dinner specials seem to be the preferred choice for restaurant
owners. Locals clip coupons from the Summit and Vail dailies, taking the
opportunity to eat at restaurants they avoid during the winter because of
cost, or crowds.
“The off-season is better than it used to be,” said Bob Starekow, an owner
of Silverheels at the Ore House in Silverthorne and Incline Grill at
Copper Mountain. “The majority of high-quality restaurants can hang in
there because of local (support).”
But even with a local dollars, most restaurants don’t make a profit during
“The cash flow doesn’t cover the loses,” Starekow said.
To make matters worse, most owners lease their spaces, which creates more
pressure to remain open simply to pay rent, he said.
Starekow’s secret to success, besides serving up excellent cuisine,
involves managing cash flow. He plans for the lean season, and he also
tries to retain his staff so he doesn’t run into higher training costs
when the ski season kicks in. Job attached unemployment helps too, because
it allows his seasonal staff to collect unemployment. Finally, he teaches
his staff to treat customers as if they’re guests walking into the staffs’
home, and that helps establish regular clientele.
Wishes Toy Store in Avon has developed that regular following. Though
owner Marti Hurd experiences a slowdown in business during the mud season,
it’s not as drastic as other businesses, she said. Residents and second
home owners make up approximately 70 percent of her customers.
“Our biggest thing is, we keep our prices local,” Hurd said. “Our prices
are the same as in Denver.”
The fact that her store is in Avon works to her advantage, because rent is
lower than in Vail or Beaver Creek.
“If I were in Beaver Creek or Vail, it would be different; I’d be just
like other stores. My prices would have to be higher,” she said.
Around the World Toys in Frisco relies mostly on visitors for its customer
base, so it makes approximately a third of what it normally does during
mud season. In high seasons, the crowds come on weekends, but in late
April and May, business is “almost nonexistent,” said floor manager
The owner has experimented with closing on Sundays during
mud season, or adjusting hours, but this year the toy store will remain
open during normal business hours, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. She’s able to keep
all of her employees because they all work part-time.
“Everybody has a slow season,” said Neal VanWieringen, a manager at
Recycle Sports in Frisco.
Recycle Sports slows in April when the large ski resorts close. Business
picks up in May when the bike trails clear. In order to retain its
employees, the shop “runs lean throughout the year,” with five employees
who work more than 40 hours during the winter, VanWieringen said.
Other businesses hire foreign workers with visas that expire after the ski
season. Roost Lodge in Vail is one; during mud season, occupancy
historically has dropped from 100 percent to 30 percent, said manager Juan
Fregoso, who has worked there for 11 years. This year, the lodge won’t
have to wrestle with mud season, because it’s closing, and new owners are
considering renting rooms out monthly to construction workers during the
Finally, other businesses attract employees who want summers off, either
to travel or to work construction, rafting, sailing or other jobs.
Precision Ski and Golf in Frisco is one example. Its employees continue to
return every season because owner Jim Deines creates an atmosphere they
enjoy; the least amount of time one of his employees has worked there is
five years, he said.