Will the Vail Valley’s holiday’s be bright? | VailDaily.com

Will the Vail Valley’s holiday’s be bright?

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – With a falling Dow, rising oil and the convulsive Euro, there seems to be a bright spot in the economic news: Ski resorts are reporting strong bookings for the Christmas holidays.

Mountain resorts overall are booking rooms for the holidays at a pace 10 percent or more above last year’s rate, and prices for those rooms are up, too. Locally, Christmas holiday bookings are up “significantly” over last year, according to Vail Valley Partnership Executive Director Chris Romer.

Even Thanksgiving, which most years sees occupancy equivalent to a busy summer weekend – about 50 percent – is up between 10 or 15 percent this year, Romer said.

Those early bookings also indicate another good thing – travelers seem to be booking rooms a little farther in advance than they have the last couple of years, when last-minute reservations were part of what industry-watchers called a “new normal.”

“People who know and love the valley – our loyal guests – seem to be booking earlier to get what they want,” Romer said.

That’s true across the mountain resort business this fall. Ralf Garrison’s Mountain Travel Research Project surveys winter and summer booking trends at mountain resorts. He said guests are booking earlier, and in greater numbers, just about everywhere that has a chairlift.

Garrison said his company noticed the trend starting to develop shortly after Labor Day, but didn’t have enough data to know if something was developing until the end of October.

“The data was too thin and it looked too good,” Garrison said.

But calls and emails kept coming into reservation centers through the fall. Now, with the ski industry coming to life for another season, things are officially looking good.

(All of this is subject to change without advance notice, of course.)

So what’s going on?

Garrison, a longtime resort-business watcher, thinks he sees a few things happening. As the world’s economy went sour in 2008 and 2009, industry experts predicted that at some point, Americans would start to travel again, since they tend to view vacations as a sort of birthright, especially for activities they’re passionate about, like snowsports.

That could be happening now. In fact, Garrison has borrowed generously from a Harley-Davidson ad of 2009 that ended “Screw it – let’s ride” for his own ode to snowsports.

Then there’s the old ski-business adage that resorts usually sell last year’s conditions. For Vail, at least, that’s a powerful marketing tool. And Colorado resorts have started this season with a good bit of snow – although not to the mind-boggling levels of last season.

Garrison said there’s been decent-to-good early snow across North America this year, something that’s good for the industry overall, but not so great for destination resorts. People who find good skiing close to home are less likely to get on a plane for decent powder, he said.

All those factors add up to a good-looking winter beyond the Christmas holidays, Romer said.

“Looking at the entire winter snapshot, almost every week is trending ahead of last year,” Romer said. “It’s looking really good right now.”

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