Attending the annual Crested Butte-Mt. Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce Winter Economic and Tourism Forecast meeting last Thursday, I hung out for a bit but not for the whole thing. Believe it or not, everyone in the room was pretty optimistic about the upcoming ski season—no news there, really—and it wasn’t just because of the free beer and wine. You couldn’t expect this gathering to have the same vibe as the day after a Trump victory in the HCCA office, for example.
No, no, no. Marketing is cranking and should help fill those now-empty seats on the planes from Chicago and L.A. The buses are better and plusher and there are more trips running in the valley. The towns are in great shape and feeling more flush than recent years. The fat bikes are phatter, and the ski resort is ready. Big snow is in the weather forecast. It was a chamber gathering, after all.
Now, I believe all the reports, but being a bit more cynical, I was not shocked by any of them. I left the room when I saw a PowerPoint coming on the One Valley Prosperity Project. Seeing Gunnison County’s new community and economic development director and OVPP leader Cathie Pagano the next morning, I promised to give her and the project another kumbaya shout-out because she appreciates it so much. It is a holiday, so—OVPP gets the strongest kumbaya acknowledgement in a meeting filled with kumbaya! Pagano did tell me the project has actually led to more than just talk and good action has evolved from the hours and hours of OVPP discussion. While not always a cheerleader for OVPP, I believe the process has helped open up constructive dialogue and helped coordinate actionable goals for the broad community. Thanks.
A few other quick takeaways from the meeting. The Tourism Association will aim its healthy financial marketing guns on promoting the mountain’s steeps to millennials. Sort of like the mountain biking trail focus in the summer, they will focus on steep ski trails in the winter. The TA believes it is the Extreme Limits terrain that sets Crested Butte apart from the rest of the state ski areas so they want to let good skiers in their 20s and 30s know it is out there. They will especially be targeting the Los Angeles and Chicago ski markets since there are direct flights originating from those metropolises to Gunnison and those flights need some help.
The TA also reported that a survey of summer visitors showed no “detractors.” None, nada, zip, zilch. That’s unheard of and a compliment to us all. Visitors really liked it here this summer. Laurel Runcie explained that the survey results basically showed that those surveyed would likely recommend a trip to the valley to a friend. That’s a good marker. The TA will do a similar survey with visitors this winter to see how we measure up in the colder months.
The buses from the RTA will be bigger, more comfortable and easier to track this winter. There will be more daily round trips (17 total) zipping up and down the valley between Mt. Crested Butte and Gunnison and everywhere in between all winter. That should mean no one should (hopefully) get left behind because of a full bus.
Flights are looking about the same as last year in terms of booked passengers, with December up a bit and March off a tad.
Both towns, Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte, are seeing record sales tax revenues in the summer. Property valuations are increasing and both communities understand that it is now the June through September period that is dominating this ski resort community. In fact, Crested Butte mayor Glenn Michel said September is now the third-busiest month according to sales tax numbers in Crested Butte. He said the recent passage of 2A to help permanently end the threat of a mine on Mt. Emmons would bring some certainty to the valley for residents, visitors and investors.
CBMR’s Erica Mueller said they are “optimistic about another great winter in Crested Butte.” She said they are tracking about 4 percent up in individual skier tickets but are tracking down about 7 percent in group business at this point. “However, we feel that we can easily make up the group shortfall,” she said. “The phones have been a little slower lately with the lack of snowfall nationwide, but we anticipate the upcoming weather pattern to turn that around.”
Mueller said the Rocky Mountain Super Pass has been a boon the last two years and this third year is expected to give CBMR another great bump. Plus, she said this season is the first year of a new three-year deal with the group. “In addition, we anticipate seeing quite a few MAX Pass holders wanting to check out Crested Butte now that we are on that product as well. And last but not least, THINK SNOW: lots and lots of snow!”
Amen. There is nothing wrong with lots and lots of snow during the ski season.
So—and I’m honestly not being cynical—one of the things I love about the start of any ski season is the energy and optimism that bubble up right now. That gets me and most people living here stoked for the beginning of a new chapter in an always-interesting book. You never know how this chapter will turn out but it feels great to get it going. I love the buzz and there is always reason for optimism. Hey, the Cubs started every baseball season since the early 1900s with an optimistic buzz and they won the World Series this year. It could dump 450 inches this year!
So here is a Thanksgiving toast to some of that optimism going beyond expectations. Here’s to a record snowfall season and an early opening of Phoenix, Third Bowl and the West Side. Here’s to great sales tax numbers with no lines at the ever-running chairlifts that never break down. Here’s to warm, comfortable buses, fatter tires on the fat bikes, no core shots, and a chance for everyone living here to get out and have one of the runs of their life this year.
Have a great Thanksgiving weekend, everyone. I hear it’s looking pretty good.