Vail, Colorado ski resorts buoyed by early snow, specials |

Vail, Colorado ski resorts buoyed by early snow, specials

Associated Press Writer
Vail Daily file photoVail Resorts this season is sprucing up its cafeteria burgers without raising prices, adding value meals and offering guests less expensive options for guided skiing and expert tips from its ski schools

DENVER – Colorado landscape architect Bryan Harding skied about 50 days on Aspen-area mountains last year, using a free season pass that was a perk of his job. But then he was laid off in the bad economy.

Harding has since started his own landscaping company in Basalt, a small central Colorado town near Aspen. But he is considering visiting less expensive resorts this year. Harding and his fiancee, Kim Noah, haven’t decided how many days they’ll ski this season.

“Last year, it was how ever many days we can get in,” said Noah, 28.

“This year, it’s how ever many we can afford,” said Harding, 30.

With the recession’s effects lingering, many Colorado ski resorts are adding value to their season passes, holding pass prices steady, or giving customers flexibility in booking lodging and paying for lift tickets to encourage mountain riders to visit – and not wait until the last minute to make plans.

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“It’s all about discretionary income,” said Bob Bray, 74, a part-time instructor at Winter Park Resort. “You gotta pay for gas, tickets, equipment. If you don’t have a job, you’re probably not going to go as often.

“But dedicated skiers will find a way.”

Resorts are helping. Wolf Creek – – in southwest Colorado has 14 “Local Appreciation Days” scheduled this season when a one-day lift ticket costs $31 for adults and $18 for seniors and kids. Telluride and Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort are expanding expert terrain, while resorts including Ski Cooper, Powderhorn and Sunlight Mountain are holding pass prices steady this season.

Several resorts say early pass sales were up, but that could be because ski areas are adding benefits.

For instance, Monarch Mountain – – kept season pass prices the same but now offers free or discounted access to 10 other resorts, up from eight last season.

And Winter Park sold some passes online, allowing out-of-state skiers and riders to take advantage of deals that previously were claimed only by people who could buy them in person.

Melanie Mills, president of the trade group Colorado Ski Country USA, said she is guessing skier visits could be slightly up this season, based on feedback from ski shows around the country.

Heavy October and November snowstorms haven’t hurt either.

“We had all this great early snow in Colorado. That got people really fired up to go out and ski,” Mills said.

Colorado resorts reported about 11.85 million skier visits last season, down 5.5 percent from the season before, according to Colorado Ski Country USA. The National Ski Areas Association saw a similar dip across the country, although resorts that were within driving distance of big cities and had lower-priced lift tickets fared better than ones that host a larger number of guests who have to hop a plane to get there.

Echo Mountain President and CEO Gerald Petitt said his ski area – – about 45 minutes from Denver, expects a 30 to 40 percent increase in skier visits from last season. That’s on top of the roughly 30 percent increase it had last season from the season before.

At $45, single-day adult lift tickets there are about half the peak window price of tickets at Aspen or Vail. The early-season price for a season pass was $169.

“We’re the closest resort to Denver. We’re also the least expensive. In tough economic times, that makes a pretty good deal,” Petitt said.

Here’s a sample of deals at other Colorado resort offerings:

– COPPER MOUNTAIN – – is letting people purchase three to six nights of lodging that can be used one or two nights at a time, any time during the season, with some restrictions.

– WINTER PARK – – says guests who book at least two nights’ lodging at certain nearby properties through Christmas get a free lift ticket for each night. Again, there are restrictions.

– CRESTED BUTTE – – has deals that let kids fly into town, ski and stay free, if adults book a qualifying trip.

– ASPEN SKIING CO. – – says kids can ski and stay free in March if an adult buys a qualifying four-day, five-night lift ticket and lodging package by Jan. 15.

– VAIL RESORTS – – is sprucing up its cafeteria burgers without raising prices, adding value meals and offering guests less expensive options for guided skiing and expert tips from its ski schools. The company runs the Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone resorts in Colorado, plus Heavenly in California.

As always, Colorado Ski Country USA – – is offering the Colorado Gems card, which offers discounts and free skiing on certain days at smaller resorts. The card is $10 this year. The Web site’s specials page is

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