Xcel Energy and the Summit Chamber of Commerce hosted the annual COO Breakfast Thursday at Keystone Conference Center with ski leaders to discuss trends affecting the upcoming ski season.Coming into the ski season after a bad snow year, COOs from Keystone, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Loveland, and Arapahoe Basin greeted the crowd with optimism."My cup isn't half full - It's all the way full," said John Buhler, COO of Keystone Resort.Optimism was a prevailing theme from the breakfast but Ralf Garrison, the event's emcee from the Mountain Travel Research Program, posed a rhetorical question to the crowd: "One way to look at it is the cup may be full but what is it full of?"From last season's "bad snow year" the question is whether or not consumers are suffering from a "snow hangover" causing them to shy away from recreation, or if they have pent-up demand, increasing the motivation to recreate after last year's lack of precipitation.With snowmaking operations in high gear at area ski areas, many of the local COOs say that pent-up demand will drive skier traffic this season.Though resorts suffered last season, officials agreed the product was good from investments in snowmaking."Last season was the year of the snowmaker," said Gary Rodgers, COO of Copper Mountain Resort. "The lack of natural snow and trying to combat the negativity last year was a challenge."Using projections for the upcoming season based on pre-bookings, Garrison explained the industry in general is down on occupancy but increased lodging rates have compensated."The most we can hope for is that people have become fatigued by their frugality," Garrison said. "Vacation is looked at as a birth right. People invest in their entertainment and many people want to come to Colorado's mountains to ski."
The weather variable drove the conversation and speculation toward the season outlook. Though many hope for snow, the perception of snowfall provides lucrative skier traffic from "snow equity" too."We actually benefit from snow in St. Louis even if there isn't snow here because people who live there think, 'if it's snowing here, it really must be dumping in Colorado'' and that motivates people to come to Summit County," Garrison explained.Consumer perception is important especially when dealing with a weather variable. Snow equity as opposed to real snow works in the local ski industry's favor, according to Garrison.Still, ski leaders unanimously agreed that snowmaking is second best to natural snow."We're praying for a good snow year," said A-Basin COO Alan Henceroth.
Keystone Resort headlined its presentation with its focus on families bolstered by free skiing for kids under 13. "This is unmatched and unparalleled by any other resort," Buhler said. "Kidtopia 2.0 is scheduled all winter long, this will be the first season we've done that."Breckenridge is debuting its new component of Epic Mix this season with a interactive racing app that allows skiers and boarders to compete against one another and Lindsey Vonn, professional skier and pace setter for the Epic Mix race tracks.This season, Breckenridge moves closer to making the Peak 6 expansion a reality."We're very excited about the Peak 6 expansion and being able to spread our traffic across the mountain and alleviate crowding," said Pat Campbell, Breckenridge COO. "We fully intend to begin to build next summer and have the area open to users by Christmas 2013."New to A-Basin this year are many "behind-the-scene improvements," including the addition of a new snowcat, new AT&T snow coverage on the mountain and a new 70-foot conveyor lift for kids.The new lift, with a 4.2-vertical-foot incline called the Pika Place conveyor will strengthen A-Basin's appeal to families, according to Henceroth.As Loveland Ski Area celebrates its 75th anniversary, a Pine Bow Pale Ale is set to be developed by Tommy Knockers Brewery.Bundled in the price of a lift ticket or season pass, Loveland is offering free snowcat rides to transport skiers and boarders along the ridge.Also celebrating a milestone this season is Copper Mountain with it's 40th anniversary, which will be commemorated with a 1970s-themed birthday celebration Dec. 7-9. Tied in with the anniversary, longtime employee Chris Colman, in his 41st season at the ski area as planning and development director, was honored with the Retreat run renamed to Colman's Retreat. Copper Mountain's Woodward season pass debuts this year. The Woodward facility, in its fourth season, offers a venue for skiers and boarders to train.