Airport surveys indicate more well-heeled visitors in valley

Winter air passengers responsible for almost $30 million in revenues

By Mark Reaman  

Visitors flying into the Gunnison-Crested Butte airport last winter were more affluent than those that visited three years earlier, and while they like the ski hill and the town of Crested Butte, they don’t like how hard it is to get here or the lack of dining options available once they arrive.

Those are some of the conclusions of a survey conducted last ski season at the GUC airport that reached 1,806 people (approximately 7% of total departing passengers) between late December of 2022 and early April of 2023.

David Becher of RRC Associates shared the results of the survey with the Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority at its June 30 meeting. Of those who participated in the survey of passengers flying American, United and JSX, 76% were visitors, 13% were second homeowners and about 10% were full-time residents of the valley. Becher noted that about 35% of those using JSX were second homeowners. Texas was the home state of most of the flyers, with 33% of the people surveyed coming from the Lone Star state. The next most popular states included Florida, California, New York and Arkansas.

The median household income of the surveyed people rose from about $169,000 in 2019-20 to $213,000 in 2022-23. Part-time residents and those using JSX were even more affluent on average, with incomes more than $250,000 not unusual. In fact, almost three-fourths of the JSX passengers had annual incomes exceeding that amount.

Becher said 59% were repeat visitors and had used GUC in the past. They cited the convenience of the airport and also mentioned ease of using GUC and the quality of the now-updated terminal. Survey results mentioned that GUC could be significantly better if there were more food and beverage options.

To no one’s surprise, the primary reason for visiting was to ski or snowboard. Having the Epic Pass was a significant factor in their choice of coming to Crested Butte, with about three-fourths of the passengers owning an Epic Pass. Visiting friends and family was also a reason to fly into GUC. Average trip length increased from 5.1 nights three years ago to 5.9 nights this year. Most visitors stayed in Mt. Crested Butte, with about 6% staying in Gunnison. The average visitor spent $1,270 per person while in the valley; that amounts to a projected aggregate of $29.5 million for the valley. 

According to the survey, more than half (58%) of the respondents said they were extremely likely to recommend the area as a winter travel destination. They cited the skiing, the town and natural beauty as attributes. On the negative side, the time and difficulty it takes to get to the CBMR ski area along with the expense were cited. The limited dining options available was the next reason cited as a reason not to return. 

RTA board member Jason MacMillan noted that while people make more money in general now compared to three years ago, he asked if there were other reasons more affluent visitors were coming to the valley. “You can see the increase in affluence in the housing market. How much is attributed to JSX,” he asked.

“JSX certainly stimulated more visits from high-end passengers,” said Becher. “It is a first-class experience that is very convenient to those Texas second homeowners.”

GUC airport manager Rick Lamport noted that the general aviation flights (basically private jets) were down “because some people were using JSX instead of flying their own planes up here.” 

Truex said the data collected is valuable to the valley. “Understanding the demographics and opinions of the passengers and monitoring changes over time allows us to see where we stand and how we are trending vs our peer set and gives us data to discuss routes, schedules, improvements, etc. with the airlines,” he concluded.

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