Skiers flock to Breckenridge and Copper Mountain for MLK weekend |

Skiers flock to Breckenridge and Copper Mountain for MLK weekend

Snowboarders strike a pose near a Flight for Life helicopter at Copper Mountain patrol headquarters during Safety Fest, an annual event held over MLK Weekend holiday. In the past few seasons, Copper and other Summit County resorts have leveraged events to draw even more skiers at a historically busy time of year.
Tripp Fay, Copper Mountain Resort |

MLK Weekend at the Eisenhower

The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend (Friday through Monday) is one of the busiest for Front Range skier traffic. A look at the total number of vehicles that passed through both bores of the Eisenhower Tunnel over the four-day holiday:

2014 – 162,047

2013 – 154,344

2012 – 142,088

2011 – 153,007

2010 – 164,283

2009 – 173,488

2008 – 155,261

2007 – 124,181

Source: Colorado Department of Transportation

The first holiday weekend of 2015 came in like a lion and went out like an even fiercer beast.

Over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, Summit County welcomed a steady stream of visitors from the Front Range and beyond, spurred as usual by school and federal breaks. MLK weekend put an exclamation point on a strong Christmas holiday, which saw nearly 3 feet of snow, along with higher skier numbers thanks to a recovering economy. Last weekend, roughly 164,000 vehicles passed through both sides of the Eisenhower/Johnson Memorial Tunnel over the four-day holiday, the most since 2010.

“This has been a very strong season so far,” said Stephanie Sweeney, the communications director for Copper Mountain Resort. “The amount of snow we received early is really driving business, and when the snow is great, business is great.”

For decades, MLK weekend has been a popular getaway for in-state skiers and families that take just one or two overnight trips per season. This year was no different for Copper and Breckenridge, despite a slow start to the season and just 14 inches of snowfall between Jan. 1 and 16. As of Dec. 31, bookings at Breckenridge lodges were up “several points” over 2014, said Rachel Zerowin with GoBreck.

“When we look at the destination guests and a longer length of stay, why Breckenridge has performed well, it’s the diversity of product. You have the classic outdoor activities … with shopping and the arts district.”
Rachel Zerowin

The early reservation numbers point to a relatively new trend for MLK weekend: destination visits. Historically, out-of-state skiers tend to travel during weeklong holiday periods, such as Christmas and spring break. While Zerowin says destination guests have always come to town during the January holiday, particularly over the past decade, she says numbers from this year show that more guests booked months before the weekend — a promising sign for the season as a whole.

“It’s more than low gas prices and drive markets,” Zerowin said. “We’re seeing more interest from out-of-state travelers who are booking earlier. That’s a good indication that destination guests are booking early and staying longer.”

And longer stays tend to equal more spending in slopeside towns, yet another perk of a popular holiday with a growing number of three- and four-night stays. Colorado Ski Country USA recently released skier data for the first month and a half of the season, and despite fewer skiers this November than in 2014, the total number of skier visits is just 1 percent less than it was at the same time last year.

For overnight guests, particularly those coming from beyond state lines, amenities at the resorts and nearby ski towns are as enticing as jaw-dropping snowfall. Jenn Rudolph, with CSCUSA, gives the example of Christmas, when several days of frigid cold pushed skiers off the mountains and into shops, restaurants, art galleries and more.

“The people were already at the resorts this holiday, and even if there were a few days that were too cold to ski, they found other ways to stay in town and explore beyond the mountain,” Rudolph said. “That’s a very important attribute of our resorts here. They offer something for everyone and they’ve really diversified their activities to give guests lots of options.”

Fun for all

While MLK weekend isn’t dominated by large-scale events like the Dew Tour, Summit County resorts have slowly added more activities to keep skiers (and particularly families) engaged during the four-day holiday.

This year, Breckenridge reworked its event schedule to better spread activities between the jam-packed Christmas and spring break seasons. Ullr Fest, the annual celebration of all things winter, was bumped from early January in 2014 to MLK weekend this season. GoBreck doesn’t track attendees at the parade or other activities, but Zerowin says “occupancy for Ullr Fest was shaping up to be stronger than last year, and we believe that was evidenced in attendance for the individual events.” She also said unseasonably warm weather and the date change played a role, especially for out-of-town visitors.

“When we look at the destination guests and a longer length of stay, why Breckenridge has performed well, it’s the diversity of product,” Zerowin said. “You have the classic outdoor activities that are now expanding into the town, with shopping and the arts district and so many other activities.”

At Copper, shotskis and Ullr parades were replaced by the Copper Mountain Safety Fest, an annual event held each MLK weekend to promote the National Ski Area Associations’ Safety Awareness Week.

During the weekend, Center Village was transformed into Safety Village, with dozens of tents and demonstrations, from ski patrollers to avalanche dogs to a Flight for Life landing at the mountaintop patrol headquarters.

Sweeney, with Copper Mountain, says the event is a perfect match for MLK weekend, when the resort sees an uptick in overnight stays from Front Range families.

“Events add to the excitement of the weekend,” Sweeney said. “When people come up, they’re skiing and riding and having a great time, but those events can bring even more life to the resort.”

Like GoBreck, Copper also doesn’t track attendees for public events like Safety Fest, but Sweeney says families are drawn to fun, laid-back events. And it only helps that they’re free.

“Families love to come up and spend MLK weekend here and ride together,” Sweeney said. “If we can have events that translate well, that are as enjoyable for the kids as the adults, it helps everyone enjoy everything around them during the weekend.”

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