Slight increase in skier days for March
Local restaurateurs, retailers and lodging operators are reporting strong business over spring break, but national economic factors and limited travel options are changing the dynamics of when visitors come, how long they stay, and how much money they spend.
Spring break typically occurs during the last three weeks of March, and while some weeks are busier than others, Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) is reporting a strong month overall. CBMR vice president and chief marketing officer Ken Stone says in terms of skier days, “We’re up slightly, about 3 percent, for the month of March.”
“Skier days” is a measurement of how many people hit the slopes on a particular day. Stone says the resort was handling about 7,000 customers on the busiest days of March.
CBMR has a goal of reaching 425,000 skier days for the entire winter season. Stone says, “We’re pacing where we are going to come in below that, but expect it to come in over 400,000.”
With fewer air travel options into the Gunnison Valley this winter, Stone says the resort relied heavily on the “drive market” vacationers, those who drive their cars to Crested Butte rather than taking an airline.
CBMR group sales director Jeff Moffett notes that for many years about 45 percent of the resort’s visitors flew into Gunnison, but now the figure is closer to 32 percent.
Stone says, “Not having as many (direct) airline seats has pushed people to outlying airports, but many more to their cars.”
The downside to driving, Stone says, is those vacationers typically don’t stay as long.
Moffett agrees and says, “The Denver or Front Range driver doesn’t spend more than two days here.”
And while it’s a good sign that the drive market more than made up for the loss of airline seats, Stone says in the long run that isn’t a good strategy for the resort. He says for a destination resort to see more consistent business they need visitors who stay five to seven days.
Crested Butte Lodging and Property management, the second largest lodging business next to CBMR, is also reporting a strong month. Assistant manager Patrick Seaman says, “Beginning on the 15th of March until the 27th we were almost 100 percent (booked) the entire time.” Seaman says that’s typical for spring break, but there were some slower times of the season that made an impact overall. “We are about flat to last year as far as the whole season is concerned,” he says.
Seaman says the spring break rush was pretty consistent, rather than one big spike. “Some years it’s only one week we see really high occupancy,” Seaman says, attributing the change to schools on the Front Range taking spring break a week later than those in Texas.
Several local restaurants also report strong numbers during the March vacation season.
Lobar co-owner Kyleena Graceffa says the sushi restaurant and bar was packed during every special event held in March, and even saw consistent business during typically slower weekdays like Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Co-owner Ben Deim agrees that spring break was strong, but says the restaurant was busier than normal during December through February, and he expected business to be ever greater during spring break. “I think because the whole season was so good we expected spring break to be busier,” he says.
Graceffa says, “We still did great. But the spring break crowd seemed to be more families,” which, she says, aren’t as prone to dining on sushi and sake as they are pizza and soft drinks.
At the Brick Oven Pizzeria co-owner Brian Schneider says business has definitely been up during March, and the season in general, but notes that part of that may be because of the restaurant’s new location. “Our winter has been up for sure. It’s hard to say, being in a new store, but our honeymoon year in the new place has been great,” Schneider says.
Donita’s Cantina co-owner Kay Cook was concerned when business the first two weeks of March was particularly slow. “But by the end of March it pulled level and we even exceeded a bit what we did last year,” she says.
Local retailers haven’t been faring quite as positively. At Shades of Crested Butte eyewear, store co-owner Nick Danni says March business was good, but it wasn’t necessarily better than last season. “I’d say it was on par, but that’s it,” Danni says.
Pooh’s Corner toy store owner Linda Powers also says this spring break is on par with last year. The trouble is, Power says, last year was lower than the years before that.
Powers attributes the slow sales in retail to the troubles with the national economy. Powers says the dollar is getting weaker, while family vacations are getting more expensive due to the cost of travel, lodging and food. “There are less disposable dollars for the average family,” Powers says. “There is a lack of faith in the economy, people are being cautious… What I sell is not a necessity. When people cut back they still have to eat, they have to pay for lodging, but they don’t have to bring back souvenirs.”
While it’s uncertain if the economy will recover by next year, Stone says the resort hopes to get more visitors throughout the winter and summer seasons, thanks to new conference sales and some new summer activities planned at the resort.
Stone says some of the conferences will bring 400 people or more. “They tend to come here in off-peak periods,” Stone says. “We’re definitely headed to a much more stable January and February with the groups and conference sales,” Stone says.
Both Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte are busy compiling sales tax figures for the month of March, but those likely won’t be ready for several weeks. Sales tax is one of the largest sources of revenue for both of the towns, as well as a good indicator of how local businesses are faring.