Mixed reports for Thanksgiving weekend traffic in Ski Country | SummitDaily.com

Mixed reports for Thanksgiving weekend traffic in Ski Country

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Even with packed main streets and longer lines at the chairlifts, Thanksgiving traffic through the Eisenhower/Johnson tunnels was the lowest it’s been in six years, said Bob Wilson, Colorado Department of Transportation spokesman.

At 163,653 total eastbound and westbound travelers from Wednesday through Sunday this year, the traffic was about 10,500 less than the next slowest holiday weekend in 2008. This year was about 38,000 less than the 2006 traffic, when 201,887 travelers passed through the tunnels.

Traffic peaked at 39,532 total westbound and eastbound traffic on Saturday, Wilson said. That was the same day eastbound traffic was backed up east of Idaho Springs to the Summit County side of the Johnson Tunnel.

Wilson said a three-car accident near Bakerville at about 3 p.m. Saturday began a gridlock that forced tunnel operators to begin metering traffic, or letting vehicles pass through in intervals, to prevent accidents and the ability to get emergency vehicles into the tunnels. The metering continued for about three hours, with five stops performed.

Generally, the daily numbers reflect traffic coming into the High Country and returning either the same day or a few days later, Wilson said. He explained that the westbound numbers were higher on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. On Saturday and Sunday, more eastbound traffic was recorded.

Thanksgiving weekend doesn’t generally reflect the highest numbers of travelers, Wilson said. In July and August, weekend traffic can approach or exceed 50,000, as it can on busy ski times such as Christmas, President’s Day and at times during spring break.

Ralf Garrison, owner and operator of the Mountain Travel Research Program, or MTRiP, said the same is true for destination travelers. Thanksgiving weekend traffic in the resort communities is generally more dependent on good snow drawing local and regional crowds, he said, while destination guests are more likely to book a reservation in the later season.

That said, Garrison relayed information that showed reservations for November were up 15 percent as of the end of October, which bodes well for the rest of the season.

“That’s prior to the snow gods giving us a break,” he said.

Reservations for the entire winter season were up 3 percent as of Oct. 31, Garrison added, and said the rate of reservations in October was up 10 percent over last year.

“All of these show a positive trend,” he said, adding that he awaits November’s numbers with interest and hope for more of a boost in response to the viral nature of good snow reports.

In terms of ski traffic, Front Range and Denver skiers and riders may have made up the majority of increased crowds at reporting ski areas. With vastly increased available terrain over last Thanksgiving, local areas such as Loveland and Arapahoe Basin saw more visitors this holiday than last year.

John Sellers, spokesman for Loveland Ski Area, said open terrain acreage sat at 726 this year versus 186 acres last season – a 290 percent increase. He was unable to provide the exact increase in skier visits, but said Friday and Saturday numbers were significantly higher than the last two seasons.

“Last year, we were way down in terrain and our numbers reflected that,” Sellers said. “This year, our terrain is close to what it was two seasons ago, but we did see a significant increase in visits over that season.”

Arapahoe Basin spokeswoman Kimberly Trembearth said the Basin also saw a growth in skiers and riders during Thanksgiving week as compared to the same week last season, but couldn’t provide specific percentages. Like Sellers, she attributed it to the early season snowfall and the amount of terrain open.

Anecdotally speaking, officials at Keystone Resort and Breckenridge Ski Resort said Front Range and Denver guests were “up earlier than normal,” Keystone spokesman Ryan Whaley said, adding that specific numbers are to be released in the quarterly investor’s report on Dec. 7.

“The message was well-received in the Front Range and Denver that the ski areas are getting a lot of snow,” Whaley said.

SDN reporter Janice Kurbjun can be contacted at (970) 668-4630 or at jkurbjun@summitdaily.com.

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