Aspen ski company's holiday ski business better than last winter

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— The Aspen Skiing Co. had a “relatively busy holiday period” and is running slightly ahead of last season’s business pace, spokesman Jeff Hanle said Wednesday.

The number of riders hitting the slopes at the ski company’s four ski areas increased about 3 percent from last season, Hanle said. The week before Christmas was down slightly, he said, but the week between Christmas and New Year’s was up.

Expectations were modest for pre-Christmas business because the holidays fell on Fridays this season. When that happens, more people travel after Christmas, according to tourism officials.

Customers also seemed to open their pocket books a bit more. “In-resort spending” on ski school lessons and at mountain restaurants also was strong this season, Hanle said.

Although ski company officials welcomed the gains, Hanle acknowledged a reality check is in order. Skier and rider visits declined 8 percent during the holidays in 2008, diminishing the favorable comparison this season. Business still lagged behind a typical holiday period.

“It certainly wasn’t the best Christmas ever,” Hanle said.

The ski company’s season-to-date business through Jan. 3 is also about 3 percent ahead of last season’s level.

January usually is a heavy month for booking trips in February and March, though the trend during the recession has been for travelers to make last-minute plans.

“Most importantly, there is some momentum,” Hanle said. “We’re hoping bookings really blow up in January for the rest of the year.”

The ski company is launching a marketing campaign it has never tried before to spur bookings. It is purchasing advertisements on huge billboards placed in strategic, high-visibility locations near downtown Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago. The ads feature an eye-catching image of a skier launching through the air.

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