Snow brings skiers and optimism to businesses |

Snow brings skiers and optimism to businesses

Cliff Thompson
Ornal Crabtree of Birmingham, Alabama rests in Vail Village waiting for his family to finish shopping. Crabtree is visiting his daughter who owns a second home in Cordillera.

That brighter assessment follows a grim start to last ski season. A snow drought and post-Sept. 11 travel jitters were also compounded by a national recession that made optimism and customers scarce. Air travel around the globe was down as much as 30 percent.

But this year has some appearances of a rebound.

“Looks like we’re about even with two years ago,” said Howard Gardner of West Vail Liquors, who has operated the business for three decades.

“Two years ago was the best year to date, and we appear to be up a bit over last year.”

He said with all the snow this year he expects visitors to be in a positive frame of mind. That early snow, up to eight feet on top of Vail Mountain, allowed the resort to open a week earlier than scheduled. It’s a sharp contrast to last year’s opening where there was little snow and just a handful of runs open. But heavy snow fell right after the Thanksgiving holiday, resurrecting the season that saw skier numbers statewide down 14 percent through November and December.

But the first holiday weekend of this ski season has not yet translated into an increase in business for everyone.

“What holiday business?” quipped John Rummings, owner of TSE, an appliance and entertainment equipment business in Avon. “It’s been slow even compared to last year.”

Veteran gallery owner John Cogswell of Cogswell Gallery in Vail said he believes it is just too early to tell, and said part of the reason may be the lateness of Thanksgiving.

More typical of the comments from business owners were those of J.T. Thompson of the Bag N Pack Shop of Vail and Avon, who has 18 years in the business.

“Compared to last year, we’re off to a stronger start, and we’re darned happy about it,” he said. “We’re still waiting to see the influx of destination guests that happens right before Christmas.”

At Vail’s Lodge Towers, Stan Cope said the lateness of Thanksgiving this year compressed the increased business into a shorter time frame.

“It was slow compared to Thanksgivings we had four or five years ago. It’s definitely not a full house,” he said. “Had Thanksgiving been the same week as last year, we would have been okay.”

He said he feels the ticket cancellation policy of airlines is making it difficult on travelers who come here at the last minute because there is good snow.

“Fifteen days out you can get a ticket for $300. Fourteen days out it costs $1,200,” he said. “People don’t want to gamble any more. They are trying to guarantee what their vacation is going to be like. By the time they find out the snow is good, their fares are no longer good. Airlines have terrible cancellation policies.”

At John Galt clothing store in Vail Village manager Pete Peterson said business is better than last year.

“It’s reasonably good and we’re up over last year,” he said, noting that the good early snow brought lots of skiers from the Front Range. “Parking is a concern, one of those ongoing concerns everyone in town has, but business is definitely picking up.”

In Beaver Creek restaurateur Don Bird of the Golden Eagle reported an excellent Thanksgiving. “It’s the best we’ve had in 16 years, by a long shot,” he said.

At the Bookworm bookstore in Edwards, owner Neda Jansen said some promotional activity and start of the holidays has translated into more people shopping there.

“We’ve had a few more people come in,” she said.

“I don’t know that the day after Thanksgiving is as big here as in other areas,” she said, “But business is definitely picking up.”

Last year’s Sept. 11 attacks cut air travel by more than 30 percent around the globe, leaving destination traveler-dependent resort areas short on business.

Just before the start of this ski season, Vail Resorts, which operates Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Heavenly near Lake Tahoe, cut 100 positions and consolidated operations because its profit had declined.

Across the state, skier numbers last ski season were down 4.6 percent and the ski season was shortened by nearly two weeks by the lack of early snow. Breckenridge was the only ski resort operated by Vail Resorts that posted gains in skier numbers last season. It was up 3.3 percent to 1.468 million. Vail Resorts’ competitor Copper Mountain, operated by Intrawest, was up 1.3 percent to 1.005 million skier days.

Vail Mountain opened Nov. 16 and reported a record opening day with nearly 11,000 skiers. Many of those were day skiers because the Frontage Road in Vail was choked with nearly 1,400 vehicles.

Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555 ext 450 or

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