Vail wraps up successful winter season
VAIL — As Vail Mountain closes Sunday, revelers will be celebrating another year of skiing and riding, while shops, hotels and restaurants will be celebrating what proved to be a very successful year of business.
Many restaurants and hotels reported a strong season, boosted by events such as the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships and the Burton U.S. Open. Meanwhile, retailers said the big events didn’t bring many shoppers, but otherwise they enjoyed a steady and busy season.
Sales tax numbers from the town of Vail support those sentiments, with the numbers to date showing that from November to February, sales tax collections totaled $3,588,776 — a nearly 6 percent increase from last ski season.
Sunny skies, good shopping
While spring snow was below average and the temperatures unseasonably warm, some retail store owners said the balmy weather helped sales.
“Bad snow often means good business,” said Brian Raitman, owner of Art on a Whim gallery in Vail. “When it’s a good winter, you get blustery days, and it’s not nice to walk around.”
Art on a Whim was in its second season in Vail Village (they have another gallery in Breckenridge), and Raitman said they had a very busy year that topped last season’s sales.
“We didn’t sell anything to the South American market last year, and we did a lot of those sales this winter. I think that might have been the biggest thing for us. I think part of it is that we’re more established, and some people who came in last year but didn’t buy anything came back this season and bought pieces.”
At Blitz Boutique, owner Barbara Smith said she had a very good winter, with a steady stream of business throughout the season.
“I think the economy is picking up and people are beginning to spend money,” she said. “March was great and April is great so far, even though we haven’t had much snow. I think the important thing is that we have a lot of snow in the early season like we did. At the end of the season, most tourists know the snow is hit or miss.”
The Championship effect
During the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships the first two weeks of February, most Vail hotels and shops said they saw a sharp dip in business. People were in town for concerts and ceremonies related to the World Championships, but they weren’t there to stay and shop.
“February was crazy busy last year, but it was pretty quiet this year. That event definitely didn’t drive traffic, and that’s what I heard from other people, too,” Raitman said.
Smith at Blitz experienced the same situation, but said she wasn’t surprised.
“As far as the Championships and Burton (U.S. Open) goes, they don’t bring a lot of business in. I was here for ’89 and ’99, so I knew that wasn’t going to be the case,” she said. “Still, I think it’s good for us to have those events because we are a ski resort and we need to bring those events to town. I’m of the opinion that more people is always good. They may not shop then, but they may come back and shop another time.”
Hotels saw a similar trend with a dip during the World Championships, since most people associated with the races were staying in Beaver Creek or Avon. Vail Mountain Lodge and Spa said they experienced a 10 percent revenue boost over last year, reaching highs not seen since 2007. However, the World Championships were a noticeable dip, said general manager Frank Johnson.
“The two weeks of the Championships severely cut into our occupancy,” he said. “During those weeks, we were down in occupancy about 12 percent. However, as soon as Presidents Day hit, we dramatically went up, which helped even things out.”
The big exception to the World Championships slump was restaurants, which were buzzing for the post-race events. Terra Bistro at the Vail Mountain Lodge was up 10 to 11 percent over the course of the season, with a big boost during the races, Johnson said.
“Business there with the ceremonies at night were 30 percent up,” he said. “That was a clear home run from the restaurant standpoint.”
Up the Creek restaurant also reported an overall uptick in business this winter, with a particularly busy January and February.
“(The World Championships) brought more people in for sure. It wasn’t as crazy as they said it would be, but more than usual,” said manager Mike Stadler.
Closing out the season
As Vail’s season comes to a close this weekend, many businesses are already offering offseason specials or closing up for a break.
Spring break crowds were plentiful, even though snow became increasingly scarce, and the town was buzzing up until the last week or two, many said.
“We were busier for spring even though the snow was not terrific,” Johnson said. “In general, people book those holidays and they come. We had very few negative comments from guests because the conditions remained really terrific up until the last couple of weeks.”
Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.