Group business fuels Snowmass spring bookings

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

ASPEN — Snowmass Village will outshine Aspen when it comes to tourist bookings as the winter season hits its final stretch, but simply having snow on the ground will be a vast improvement over March 2012.

Last year, the final appreciable snow of the season fell March 1 and 2.

“Summer started right after that,” recalled David Perry, Aspen Skiing Co. senior vice president of mountain operations, during Tuesday’s meeting of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association board of directors.

In town, March snowfall last year set a record — a record low, that is. A mere 6.09 inches were recorded at the city’s water-treatment plant during the month.

This year, Aspen will close out February still gripped in winter. Snow fell steadily Tuesday, and on Wednesday morning, Skico reported close to 3 feet of new snow over the previous seven days on Aspen Mountain. Snowmass picked up 25 inches during the same period.

“Normally, this is when our call volume starts to take a nose dive, but we’re holding steady,” said Bill Tomcich, president of reservations agency Stay Aspen Snowmass. This week’s snows have generated an uptick in calls, he said.

“If we keep getting snow, I think we’ll see a lot more last-minute business than we did last year,” Tomcich said.

There are no more sold-out nights on the books this winter in either Aspen or Snowmass, but both resorts wrapped up a strong February in terms of hotel and lodge bookings. March and April, fueled by group business, will be gangbusters in Snowmass, both compared with last year and compared with Aspen, Tomcich said.

The National Brotherhood of Skiers, which brought about 1,000 people to Snowmass for a week, wraps up its visit Saturday. The NASTAR National Championships come to Snowmass March 20 to 24; the event is expected to draw more than 500 people as the top recreational ski racers in the country compete for national titles in various divisions.

The National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic will bring about 400 veterans to Snowmass on March 31 to April 5, and the Mountain Travel Symposium, which convenes at a different resort each year, will bring roughly 1,000 buyers and suppliers, including tour operators, ski groups and clubs, resort representatives, lodging property reps and others, to Snowmass Village from April 7 to 13. It will be the first local gathering since the 2005 symposium in Aspen. The so-called “trade exchange” for tour operators, featuring one-on-one appointments, is sold out.

The symposium attracts a key group, said Jeff Bay, general manager of the Hotel Aspen and Molly Gibson Lodge in Aspen and an ACRA board member.

“These are tour operators who send hundreds of thousands of dollars of room nights to our community,” he said.

“Mountain Travel is really big,” Skico’s Perry agreed. “That’s an extremely influential group of people coming in.”

Meanwhile in Aspen, March reservations are showing some gaps.

“We’ve got space to sell in March,” said Warren Klug, general manager of the Aspen Square Condominium Hotel. “And because Easter is on the 31st (of March), April looks pretty sad. We’re not going to have the April we had last year.”

The Hotel Aspen and Molly Gibson are starting March with fewer bookings than they had at this time last year, thanks to 2012′s strong advance reservations, according to Bay.

“That being said, we have seen strong close-in demand in both January and February and anticipate the same in March, and that the gap will close, as long as snow and weather cooperate,” he said.

March reservations at Aspen’s Sky Hotel are tracking ahead of last year at this point, having recently picked up the pace, according to Corey Enloe, general manager there.

Freeskier magazine will hold its All-Mountain Ski Test in Aspen in mid-March, bringing skiers and manufacturers to the slopes to test next season’s equipment and giving a boost to the Sky, which will this year host a skiwear fashion show associated with the event. It’s a gathering that is starting to build some steam, Enloe said.

March also brings Skico’s Spring Jam events, including an outdoor March 22 concert by Brett Dennen at Snowmass Base Village and back-to-back free concerts in downtown Aspen, featuring MarchFourth Marching Band and Grouplove, on March 29 and 30.