With Memorial Day Weekend right around the corner, Summit County is approaching the last few weeks of mud season and gearing up for summer. As always, the off-season is a time when many businesses close down and people head out of town, seeking other vacation destinations outside of the Colorado mountains. However, there’s also a contingency of places that remain open after the resorts close and before the snow and rain turn to sunshine. Though business is certainly slower, it still flows, with locals gathering together to make good on two-for-one deals and businesses getting their venues and employees ready for the upcoming summer rush. Following a winter season that started slowly and picked up toward the end, local businesses in Summit County are saying that so far, this year’s mud season isn’t all that different from those previous.
“I would say it’s been mud season business as usual,” said Ken Nelson, president of the Breckenridge Restaurant Association and owner of four restaurants in Breck.
This year’s mud season started a little bit later than usual, after a large amount of snowfall convinced Breckenridge Ski Resort and Copper Mountain to re-open for an extra weekend. While some businesses struggled to find staff at late notice, many year-round businesses capitalized on the situation.
“I thought it was interesting, the ski area reopening that following weekend,” Nelson said. “That had a positive impact on the business. We scrambled and it was sort of exciting. We jumped back into game mode and did it for that following weekend. I think it was certainly easier for some people and harder for other people.”
Being flexible is important during mud season, he added.
Weather is another factor that affects year-round businesses, particularly during the spring season. While a few bright sunny days might bring up day visitors from the Front Range, sudden changes of temperature and squalls of rain and snow will just as easily drive them back.
“The weather’s been challenging and it’s kind of got a lot of us locals just wanting to crawl under a rock,” said Travis Holton, owner of Pug Ryan’s Steakhouse and Brewery in Dillon. Weather also affects when he can open the Tiki Bar down by the marina waterfront. Although he hopes to have it open sometime around Memorial Day Weekend, that’s not a sure thing.
This year also brings with it challenges related to transportation, with construction going on at the heart of Breckenridge Main Street, on Highway 9 between Breckenridge and Frisco, as well as along the Interstate 70 corridor. Yet Nelson said things haven’t been so bad.
“It’s been so well managed,” he said of the construction in Breckenridge. “You can still get to the businesses downtown.”
Nelson recalls several years ago when there was construction directly in front of his restaurant, Giampietro’s Pasta and Pizzeria. Although it was inconvenient and may have prevented some business, it certainly didn’t stop it completely, he said. “If people want to get into your place, they’re going to find a way to get in there.”
Many businesses take advantage of the slow season with improvements and renovations. Kenosha Steakhouse in Breck, though normally open for most of mud season, closed for two-and-a-half weeks this year to do a remodel and upgrade its beer system.
“We close only for as long as we need to, according to what projects we need to do,” said general manager Stacy Schonell.
Already the restaurant has started to see the payoff, she added. “We had a really good weekend on our first weekend and the last week has been phenomenal.”
Additionally, the off-season gives businesses time to get ready for the next rush, particularly when it comes to training employees and improving service, Nelson said. Memorial Day Weekend, in particular, is helpful for pinpointing any issues before the big season starts.
“It’s a really good training session,” he said. “You can get them pumped up for what is a relatively busy weekend and get them trained and get their footing under them.”
Overall, whether renovating or training new staff or simply keeping the doors open, businesses are making it through what seems to be a generally average spring.
“I think, all in all, it’s been kind of like every other off-season,” Holton said.