Skier visits to Colorado resorts dip 7.7 percent

Date: Jan. 24th, 2009
Phone: By Bob Berwyn - summit daily

Season a mixed bag so far for Summit County businesses - Skier visits at Colorado Ski Country USA’s 22 member resorts dipped 7.7 percent from last year, but the reporting period doesn’t include New Year’s week, when some areas saw a record number of guests.

Silverton Mountain, Crested Butte and Telluride all broke monthly snowfall records in December, and industry officials are optimistic that continued good snow will help resorts ride out the economic storm, according to the state’s ski industry trade group.
So far, skier numbers have exceeded expectations, said Melanie Mills, the group’s president and chief executive officer.

“We know that skiers and snowboarders are dedicated to their sports and optimistic by nature,” Mills said. “While business is down compared to the last few record-setting seasons, we are seeing participation levels this year that ... show strong performance in our sector of the travel industry.”

The latest figures come from a reporting period covering Oct. 15–Dec. 31, when resorts were braced for the worst but were buoyed by solid numbers of skiers.

“People are determined to ski,” said Jennifer Rudolph, spokesperson for Colorado Ski Country. “Resorts with a regional and local drive market are doing well,” she added.

Rudolph also said it’s important to note that the trade group’s skier numbers this year don’t include the four ski areas Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Vail) owned by Vail Resorts, which dropped out of the statewide organization last year.

Vail Resorts earlier reported that its skier visits were down about 5.5 percent from last year.

Holding steady?
All in all, the numbers show that the early season doom-and-gloom scenario hasn’t quite come to pass, said Sharon Russell, director of the Summit Chamber of Commerce.

While some retailers are reporting difficulties, Russell said, others are within one percent of last year’s banner numbers.

Similar reports are coming in from the dining sector, according to Bobby Starekow, president of the Summit County Restaurant Association.

“Dinner business is down. Bar business is up,” Starekow said, adding that sales at his own stable of eateries is running about even with last year.

In Frisco, town revenue specialist Chad Most said final sales-tax numbers for December are piling up on his desk after the Jan. 21 due date.

Anecdotally, he said, word from the lodging community is that November and December numbers were fairly positive from hotels and motels, but not quite as good from condos and other types of short-term rentals. But Most said he’s hearing that things picked up in January.

“If we’re flat compared to last year, we ought to setting off fireworks,” Russell said.

Record traffic through the Eisenhower Tunnel over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend could be another sign that the winter season may not be end up being economic disaster that was predicted by some people last autumn.

“It’s interesting to me that, if we set a record for traffic through the tunnel, we have to have some pretty big numbers on the hill,” Russell said.

Rider numbers on the Summit Stage are also staying high. The December total of 287,054 was an record for the month and the second-best month ever, and January is on pace to be another record month, said Stage director John Jones.

But Jones said he’s observed plenty of people brown-bagging in the parking lots, which may support the idea that, while there are plenty of people in the county, they aren’t spending quite as much as in recent seasons.

Early season sales-tax figures from Breckenridge lead to similar conclusion. November revenue for the restaurant and bar sector was down 18.4 percent from last year, and down 13 percent year-to-date.

November 2008 tax revenues from the town’s retail sector dipped 17.9 percent from the previous year and were down 19.7 percent year-to-date. November’s short-term lodging tax revenues were down 29.4 percent from 2007, and are down about 15.9 percent year-to-date.

Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at