Despite a poor snowfall last year and a slow start to the season for 2012/13, winter in Summit County has brought in both Front Range and destination tourists who have spent their money on the slopes as well as in town. With an early Easter and Breckenridge Ski Resort's annual Spring Fever festival coming up, local businesses are looking forward to seeing their numbers spike again.
According to date from the Mountain Travel Research Program (MTRiP), which tracks lodging performance numbers for resorts throughout the western United States, the month of February closed with very high numbers, with the highest February occupancy in Breckenridge since 2008.
The beginning of March has been somewhat soft as far as advance lodging bookings compared to last year. However, daily occupancies at the end of March are pacing above last season by as much as 20 percent. While the beginning of April isn't looking to have many numbers at the moment, an increase in snowfall as well as attraction to events such as the Spring Fling may make a difference.
"With that lineup of all the spring events, a lot of times those last-minute travel decisions made by the people in short travel locations, they make those decisions on great events and snowfall," said Rachel Zerowin, public relations manager at the Breckenridge Resort Chamber.
The month of March is usually a good one for resorts and businesses in Summit County because of the spring break vacation, which draws tourists from states all over the nation. Since each state, and sometimes even each school in each state, is different, this is not confined to just one week but spread out throughout the month.
"March is traditionally a strong time period for us because of Spring Break and in the past you used to see these peak weekends based on school break calendars, but now those calendars are spreading out, we're seeing a stronger March overall," Zerowin said.
"They're already here," said Jennifer Hopkins, owner of the Worldly Traveller store in Breckenridge, of the Spring Break crowds. She said that the first week in March proved much better than the first weeks of December, January and February.
"March has definitely been my best, starting out," she said, adding that she is planning her marketing and store sales around the next few weeks.
"It's only been a couple days into it, but so far it's been really good," said Margaret Martinez, owner of the Beehive in Breckenridge. "Definitely the guests are returning guests, a lot of the people who have been in my shop before and are stocking up on their favorite things. So far, the last few days, it's great."
Martinez mentioned that having Easter come early this year (March 31, as opposed to early April last year) is a good thing, because it will intersperse the Americans on Spring Break with the Europeans and Latin American tourists who will be traveling in the holiday week right after Easter.
"This week, having two weeks following Easter, of ski season, I think we're going to see a tremendous number of people from Latin America, as soon as they finish Lent and Easter, they'll be booking, they've already booked their vacation," she said. "So I'm very hopeful that April is going to stand very strong too."
"We're cautiously optimistic," said Anna Jones, manager at 129 South Activewear in Breckenridge.
Keeping a level of cautious optimism is a good step, Zerowin said, as the ski season comes closer to close and before the summer season starts up again.
"Knowing between the economy, between consumer confidence, between all these things we monitor regularly, knowing that those things can change, we're not ready to dive in and say we're overly optimistic," she said, emphasizing the importance of studying the trends and understanding what the resulting numbers mean before using them to make plans and decisions for the next season and year. But there's no reason not have some optimism, however.
"Again, January and February were looking really strong in Breckenridge," she said. "It's numbers that we're excited about as well as the way that March is pacing."