Colorado's ski resorts say they're doing better than expected as they march into the second half of the season.
Some of the resorts off Interstate 70, such as Loveland, are doing booming business because of price and proximity to the Front Range. Many, including Steamboat Springs, are pushing new promotions and packages as they aim to snag a bigger piece of the skier pie.
"Right now, we're pretty much at the halfway point of the season," said Jennifer Rudolph, spokeswoman for the trade group Colorado Ski Country USA. "From Ski Country USA's perspective, we're in a good place. We're pleased with our first period numbers, and we're looking forward to a lot of ski season in front of us, and we're encouraged by our member resorts about visitation and volume."
Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. has steadily rolled out specials to attract visitors, most recently teaming with Old Town Hot Springs on a package. Ski Corp. spokeswoman Loryn Kasten said she hadn't seen booking numbers on that deal. This is the first time the resort has partnered with the hot springs, Kasten said.
"We were happy to work with them," she said. "One of the things we're seeing with this current economy is, people are looking for more bang for their buck, and this is one opportunity for the ski resort to provide that bang - and it's something other ski resorts can't provide."
Ski Corp. President Chris Diamond was optimistic about the next stretch. The Steamboat Ski Area closes April 12.
"On the business side, it looks like the back half of the season will be stronger than the front," Diamond stated in an e-mail. "While the booking window is shorter, for the majority of our family visitors, the decision is still made months out. : While the economic news is far from bright, there has been less market volatility post election. So I think this, along with very attractive airfares, is helping to drive business for February/March. And the good snow doesn't hurt."
Front Range resorts
Things are looking up at Loveland Ski Area, spokesman John Sellers said. The resort is the first one west of Denver on I-70, he said. It's 53 miles from the city.
"Numbers are better than we expected at this point," Sellers said. "We're up over last year, which we're very excited about. We think our proximity to Denver, our affordability and our annual snowfall are things that have kept us a little bit recession-proof through this part of the season. We haven't done anything special or out of the ordinary."
Loveland has sold solid numbers of four-packs and season passes, Sellers said. The ski area also has seen people buy more day passes at the ski area or at grocery stores and other Front Range dealers.
Day passes cost $48 at grocery stores and ski shops on the Front Range and $56 in Loveland, Sellers said.
Loveland also has the benefit of a longer season. It opened Oct. 15 and plans to close in May. Arapahoe Basin, which also is off I-70, shared an opening day with Loveland. A-Basin's ski area doesn't shut down until June.
Leigh Hierholzer said the resort was on budget for this year after a record 2007-08 season.
"We just started gearing up with all our events," Hierholzer said. "Spring's really the time when we really shine I think, so the best part of the season is yet to come."
A-Basin's season pass sales were slower this year, she said.
The resort has countered the economic downturn by offering its spring pass this month, which it usually doesn't do until March or April, Hierholzer said. A-Basin's $279 A+ Spring Pass includes unlimited skiing at A-Basin as well as five ski days at Keystone or Breckenridge, one of which can be used at Vail or Beaver Creek.
A-Basin, which is owned by Dundee Realty, has a deal with Vail Resorts to allow that crossover.
A-Basin also is attracting people who want to try its Montezuma Bowl, Hierholzer said. That terrain, which opened in January 2008, expanded the resort by 80 percent, she said.
Although it attracts some Front Range skiers, Aspen typically serves a destination customer similar to Steamboat's. Aspen Skiing Co. operates Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass.
Spokesman Jeff Hanle said the resort was seeing less traffic than it did last season.
"It's down somewhere in the range that we expected, so we're fighting to keep that as is, as is everyone, but we were down through Dec. 31 a little over 7 percent," Hanle said. "Our forecasts are saying between 5 and 15 percent - probably on the larger end of that. But we're seeing more last-minute bookings than normal, so we're hoping that will fill in some of that."
Hanle said he's been in Aspen for about 20 years. The resorts are offering some of the best promotions he's seen, he said.
"They're starting to catch on; it's just uncertain if it will be enough to get us flat" with last season, Hanle said. "I don't think anyone expects to exceed last year. It's not realistic. We're just doing the best we can in this economy."
Aspen Skiing Co. has partnered with Frontier Airlines on a promotion, he said. Visitors who fly Frontier and buy four nights of lodging and four days of skiing get a free plane ticket and an extra night and day in town. Aspen, like Steamboat, is seeing visitors stay fewer nights, Hanle said.
Telluride Ski Resort also serves more of a destination market. The resort is between Montrose and Durango in southwestern Colorado. Like Steamboat, it does not release skier numbers, spokeswoman Maryhelyn Kirwan said.
"They're better than we expected them to be," Kirwan said.
Telluride opened a new bowl and lift this year, as well as a couple of restaurants, she said. The resort doesn't own any lodging, so it's working with lodging partners on packages. Like Steamboat, Telluride has a guaranteed revenue deal with airlines that fly there and to Montrose.
"We work with the airlines," Kirwan said. "We can bundle air, lodging and lift packages."
Steamboat and more
Intrawest, Ski Corp.'s parent company, also operates Copper Mountain and Winter Park in Colorado, as well as Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia. Andy Wirth, Intrawest's chief marketing officer, said Steamboat was seeing positive trends such as decreasing airfares.
"In Steamboat, we have not only Central Reservations but also an airline booking report," Wirth said. "We found a way to merge that. : With that and with a view of Copper Mountain, Winter Park and Whistler, Steamboat is performing as well as, if not better than, the other resorts."
Steamboat also has gotten high marks for customer service, Wirth said. People surveyed on the mountain have said they would return to the resort.
And about 250 inches of snow has helped, he said.
"Steamboat is starting to pull away with a midseason snow advantage," Wirth said. "It's not what I would characterize as being a significant advantage, but it's what I would say is an advantage."
Rudolph said Colorado Ski Country USA was getting positive reports from destination resorts, large resorts, small resorts and those that serve mostly Front Range skiers. Her information is anecdotal, she said.
Rudolph said she was confident about the rest of the season.
"March is our snowiest month, and with that right in front of us to add to the conditions and the reputation Colorado has for having great snow, I think it's going to further fuel the momentum we've got going into the rest of the season," she said. "It'll be interesting to see how our how second period numbers turn out."