The long wait for snow this year, on top of last year's disappointing winter season, has affected tourists' plans for their holiday vacations. In general, resort bookings are down as potential visitors remain cautious.
Occupancy at 16 mountain resorts has decreased by 12.3 percent in December as compared with last December, according to data gathered by the Mountain Travel Research Program (MTRiP). The trend continues with on-the-books occupancy for December through May down by 2.8 percent.
But in Breckenridge, it's another story.
Research done by MTRiP shows that December on-the-books occupancy has increased by 2 percent in Breckenridge as compared with last year. The picture looks even better from December through May with a 7 percent increase.
"Last year was a relatively slow snow year, so consumers have been reluctant to engage this year until there's a big snow message that convinces the reluctant consumers that the resorts are back in Mother Nature's favor," said Ralf Garrison, director of MTRiP.
While low snow affects the resorts across the board, certain aspects at Breckenridge lend it a distinct advantage. Elevation, reputation and location are all working in favor of Breckenridge.
"The resorts who have high elevations and a good reputation and have a strong local following are picking up faster than other resorts are," said Garrison. "A big brand is like a magnet - the bigger the magnet, the more it can attract."
In addition to its tall mountains and good name, Breckenridge is conveniently located for visitors who are driving from nearby states and the Front Range. When snow comes late, short-drive travelers flock and Breckenridge benefits.
"It's a little bit of a fickle consumer environment now," said Tom Foley, operations director at MTRiP. "The recent snow is doing everybody a ton of good and Breckenridge is on that list. Consumers are anxious to get out and ski and enjoy themselves."
However, it's not just the snow that's calling visitors to Breckenridge.
"It used to be that skiing was the only thing you did at the resort. Nowadays there's an overall winter resort festive party," said Garrison. "The more non-mountain things there are to do, the more the guests are assured that they're going to have plenty of options for their vacation time regardless of the natural snow."
Breckenridge has more to offer than just ski slopes and the fact that visitors realize that shows in the numbers. Rachel Zerowin of the Breckenridge Resort Chamber cites shopping options and the vibrant art scene as further draws to the town.
"We can accommodate the whole range of traveler," Zerowin said. "The artistic district is doing great things (and) between shopping and dining in town, a diverse group of people can come to Breckenridge and enjoy it."
Whether numbers were up or down at the time of the report, increased snowfall will provide positive effects.
"The snow conversation is going to carry on, no matter what happens over the short term," Garrison said. "We're going to catch up over December, but not fully recover. Now it's what's going to happen in the second half of the game."
In addition to hoping for snow, the resorts, particularly Breckenridge, can thank their current visitors for strengthening the season later on.
"The guests who come for Christmas go home with messages that have a lot to do with end of season," Garrison said. "Nowadays anybody that has a smart phone has the equivalent of a broadcast studio in their pocket. With social media, they start conveying the message for the resorts. It's all about momentum. A good experience at Christmas communicated through social media ... will have a lot to do with a positive balance at the (end of the) season."