As the snow piles up, so does the money.
Retail sales in Aspen hit $95.8 million in March, a 7.9 percent increase compared with the $88.8 million the same month last year, according to the city’s monthly consumption report. The $95.8 million figure was a record for March retail sales in Aspen, according to Anthony Lewin, city tax auditor.
For the first quarter of 2019, January through March, retailers reported $268.4 million in gross sales. That’s also a record and represents a $15 million increase, or 5.9 percent, over the $253.4 million retailers garnered during the same three months last year.
“I would say March was a good month for us because of all of the snow we’ve gotten,” Lewin said.
But the records don’t end there. The hits just keep on coming.
The latest data from resort reservations tracking firm Destimetrics shows that overall paid occupancy in Aspen and Snowmass Village during the 2018-19 ski season was 61.7 percent, a 5.4 percent increase over last season’s 58.5 percent. The season is measured as November through April.
And 61.7 percent is a new record for local ski-season occupancy, said Jeff Hanle, director of public relations for Aspen Skiing Co.
If there was any aspect to the season that wasn’t so bright, it was December, he said. Lodging sales and skier visits weren’t as strong as hoped — perhaps an after-effect from the low snow totals of the season before.
“We sort of looked at that … as a ‘snow hangover.’ Generally, when you have a bad snow year, the early part of the following season is tough until the snow really flies and people start to go, ‘OK, it’s not going to be another bad snow year,’” Hanle said.
In terms of skier visits, the most recent season was strong, Hanle said, much better than last year, “which probably won’t surprise anybody.”
He said the company is still computing the numbers and has yet to report them to Colorado Ski Country USA, which will announce statewide skier-visit figures at the organization’s annual meeting June 6 in Denver.
“I haven’t gotten the numbers yet,” Hanle said.
Like Lewin, he credited the solid season to consistent snowfall.
“Snow helps, snow cures everything,” Hanle said. “We put some great promotions out there because we had that ‘snow hangover’ and some potential weakness in the international market because of currency exchange rates.
“We threw a lot out there, hoping to replace that business with domestic sales,” Hanle continued. “We also threw a lot of promotions into those specific international markets, and some of those numbers did rebound. That primarily is [because of] snow. People look at the amazing snowfall year and then say, ‘OK, I can pull that vacation off.’”
He said the inaugural year of the Ikon Pass also helped bring in more business. The pass, which provides access to numerous resorts inside and outside of the state, lured a fair amount of extra visitors from the Front Range, Hanle said.
However, the Ikon Pass was not to blame for crowded trails, as many locals contended during the season, he said.
“The Ikon Pass worked,” Hanle said. “Its impact fluctuated at different times of the season as to the percentage of our business. When we look at an overall picture, it was a good chunk, but not as much as maybe a lot of people felt it was. I think the perception was not the same as the reality on that.”
Given the above-average snowfall, it should come as no surprise that the weekends on SkiCo’s four mountains were busy with locals and visitors alike, he added.
“The perception that it was all Ikon Pass was because everybody was out there,” he said. “But it was definitely a plus for us and it exposed us to new customers who have the potential to be long-term customers.”
The Destimetrics report shows that April occupancy for Aspen-Snowmass lodging was 40.5 percent compared with April 2018’s 34 percent. Hanle said the three-day Apres music festival at Buttermilk probably helped to boost lodging last month, along with late-season snowfall.
Ryan Boudreau, a forecaster with aspenweather.net, said 466 inches of snow have fallen at Snowmass Ski Area since October, which makes it above average. Aspen Mountain’s total since October is 366 inches, he said.
“It was an outstanding year,” Boudreau said. “Last year, we didn’t break 300 inches. This year was solid, probably top five, but not as good at 2007-08 or 1983-84, which was the best.”
An analysis by central reservations agency Stay Aspen Snowmass of the DestiMetrics report also suggests that the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport contributed to the strong occupancy.
While the actual number of commercial flights landing at Sardy Field decreased, nearly 175,000 enplanements — meaning passengers boarding flights in Aspen — were recorded from December through April. That represents a 6 percent increase over last year’s enplanement figure, which also was a record.