Businesses hope success will continue for holidays
With Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) and other local lodging operations reporting brisk business during the resort’s Ski Free promotion, the companies are anticipating the success will roll into a busy holiday season.
CBMR’s Ski Free promotion, officially called "Test Drive Crested Butte," began on November 25, and ends Saturday, December 15. "Ski Free is going very well—it obviously helps with having all the snow," says CBMR vice president and chief marketing officer Ken Stone.
CBMR general manager Randy Barrett says at the end of November, even with free lift tickets, the number of skier visits was flat with last season. But that changed when the snow started falling during the first week of December.
Barrett says the resort had 5,643 skiers on Saturday, December 8; 1,491 of those were season pass holders.
Barrett says he’s expecting numbers over 7,000 during Christmas week.
While visitors in town for Ski Free haven’t been paying for lift tickets, Barrett says quite a few have been using local lodging. "One of the pleasant surprises is close to 50 percent of the guests we have had are staying in (CBMR) lodging… We’re more than pleased," Barrett says. He also says more of the upscale lodging units are being rented, and attributes this to the savings skiers get by not having to purchase a ticket.
Barrett says the visitors for Ski Free are also a fresh clientele. "A lot of folks are saying this has been their first time here in Crested Butte and that they will return—something we wanted to happen," Barrett says.
Barrett admits Ski Free hasn’t been perfect. "Overall, we’ve had a small amount of issues, mostly on the mountain," he says. Barrett says poaching has been the biggest problem, but it usually is after a big storm. He says there have also some scuffles and overcrowding, but says all three issues are being relieved as more terrain is opened.
Crested Butte Lodging general manager Wanda Bearth says Ski Free has definitely increased lodging sales, particularly during last weekend.
Lodging businesses in Gunnison are also noting the success of Ski Free. Super 8 Motel owner Kathy Pallaoro says she has been very happy with the Ski Free traffic. Days Inn general manager Eve Niemczyk also says business has been doing better than last year, and attributes this to Ski Free visitors.
Stone says while Ski Free may be ending, the crowds will stay in town through the upcoming holiday.
One way to determine how busy the holidays will be is to consider airline flights. Stone says load factors, the percentages used to determine how efficient an airline flight is, are up 4 percent from last year on the American Airlines flights from Dallas for the rest of December.
Stone says load factors are up 2 percent on the United Airlines Airbus flight from Denver. United formerly offered propeller plane service, but has cut back due to small passenger loads. Now United Express flies two regional jets in and out of the Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport daily, in addition to the larger Airbus Jet, which is used on weekends and holidays.
Stone did not have comparable passenger numbers for the United regional jets, but says there should be more passengers overall. "We’re looking very good for the rest of December. Expect a very busy Christmas period, exceeding last year’s numbers," Stone says.
Lodging reservations are also up for the rest of December, Stone says. In addition, he anticipates the recent snow will bring in some last-minute bookings.
Bearth says Crested Butte Lodging is also expecting a busier holiday than last year. "Our phones have been ringing like crazy since it started snowing," Bearth says of holiday reservations.
The lodging businesses in Gunnison are faring a little differently with holiday reservations. Pallaoro says Super 8 still has plenty of rooms open for the Christmas holiday. "Last year was a little busier," she says.
Niemczyk says holiday reservations at Days Inn picked up with the recent snow, but couldn’t tell if it would be any busier this year. She says new reservations are coming in each day.
New terrain openings might entice more holiday visitors. Barrett says the High Lift at CBMR will open this Thursday. Barrett couldn’t say which portions of the Extreme Limits might be opened, as it depends on the speed of the snow packing fleet and weather conditions.