With sizzling temperatures in much of the country, tourists are turning to mountain ski resorts to find relief. Resorts from Colorado to California and Oregon are on track to set a record this year for summer business.
Brandon Wilke is spending a long weekend at a resort just down the road from Aspen, Colo. He came for a wedding, but Wilke and his brother-in-law decided to bring their mountain bikes and try out some bike trails at the Snowmass ski resort. At first, Wilke says he didn’t know mountain biking was an option.
“I went to the Snowmass website and just looked at what kind of activities, events that they held up here and saw the mountain biking and the gondolas,” he says, “and decided it’s for me, I gotta bring my bike.”
In the summer, the Aspen Skiing Co. allows mountain biking on terrain normally used for skiing.
From a gondola car, Aspen Skiing’s Jeff Hanle points to dirt trails that crisscross the mountain. Bridges, jumps and big wooden-banked turns are tucked between pine trees. All the trails were in place last summer, Hanle says, and some from the year before.
“We’re still winter-driven, that’s where most of our income comes from,” Hanle says, “but we’ve got these facilities up here and we can use them to sort of expand and stretch out our business season.”
The ski resort operator isn’t the only the one benefiting from expanded summer offerings. Hotels, restaurants and shops in Snowmass and Aspen are enjoying a banner summer. Bill Tomcich, who tracks visitations through his resort-booking company, noticed the trend too.
“You just take a look at the number of visitors in town,” he says, “and it’s almost unprecedented numbers compared to what we are used to in years gone by.”
The resort is bouncing back to pre-recession levels, Tomcich says, partly because of activities like mountain biking. It’s also cheaper. A summer hotel stay in Aspen is about 60 percent of the cost of a winter vacation.
Heavenly Resort in California is also expanding its summer activities. A 2011 law allowed resorts that operate on U.S. Forest Service land to offer activities other than skiing. For Heavenly, that meant offering things like summer tubing. Tourists tube down a long green, plastic mat, resort spokeswoman Sally Gunter says.
“They have the same tube that we use in the winter, and they sit down and are pushed down the tubing hill,” she says. “It’s 500 feet long, a 60-foot vertical drop and is very exhilarating.”
Back at the Snowmass ski resort, bike pro Kurt Fehrenbach instructs a group of new mountain bikers, decked head to toe in protective gear. Fehrenbach teaches skiing in the winter and welcomes the year-round job security, something that’s hard to find in a resort economy
“One of the tricks, like working the seasonal job, teaching skiing in the wintertime, is finding the right job that complements it in the summer,” he says.
As more summer activities are added in the Aspen area, there are some minor concerns from local residents and tourists alike, over traffic and limited parking. But they say it’s a small price to pay to avoid an economic slump each summer.