Visitors Bureau Expects Increased Travel this Winter
Aspen Chamber Resort Association officials are optimistic about the winter as international travel potentially resumes, the Aspen Daily News reported. Advanced lodging bookings for November through March are pacing 85% higher over last winter’s pandemic-affected five-month period and 2.8% over the same months in 2019-20.
December is shaping up to be a strong month for visitors, while January is lagging. Aspen-Snowmass bookings for Presidents Day Weekend (in mid-February) through early March are showing strong gains, which is par for the course industrywide. International travel is expected to rebound in November, but the recovery will still be long-term. Markets such as Australia, which tends to be strong for Aspen, are slowly lifting their quarantine restrictions.
L’Hostaria Closes Its Doors
After a 25-year run serving as Aspen’s unofficial living room, L’Hostaria Ristorante closed its doors on Nov. 5, the Aspen Daily News reported. “It’s been an amazing ride, full of marvelous adventures accompanied with great food and wine,” wrote owner Tiziano Gortan on the announcement through its Facebook page. The COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath created not only economic hardships but offered an opportunity to re-evaluate priorities, and moving on from the restaurant was one. The outpouring of local support in the days before its closing was enormous.
Aspen Named ‘Best Small City’ by Conde Nast
Condé Nast Traveler’s annual Readers’ Choice Awards named Aspen the country’s No. 1 “Best Small City,” the Aspen Daily News reported. The acclaim came as the result of more than 800,000 Condé Nast readers who “submitted responses rating their travel experiences across the globe to provide a full snapshot about the places they can’t wait to return to next,” according to an announcement from the magazine. “The Readers’ Choice Awards are the longest-running and most prestigious recognition of excellence in the travel industry.” The full list of readers’ choice awards are already available on the publication’s website and will be commemorated in print in the November issue.
Retail Records Set in August
The eighth month of 2021 was so busy in Aspen that retail sales shattered figures from both August of 2019 and 2020, the Aspen Times reported. The Consumption Tax Report for August, showed sales increased 37% over the same month in 2019 and 33% over 2020. “These double-digit growth percentages, regardless of comparison to 2020 or 2019, reflect that economic activity has been robust, especially given the slower start to the year when under red-level restrictions,” noted Finance Director Pete Strecker.
Snowmass Occupancy Stays Consistent Through Summer
Instead of busy weekends and empty weeks, Snowmass Village remained full all summer long this year, the Aspen Times reported. That’s been a goal of the tourism department and businesses in Snowmass for years. Paid occupancy rates for the months of June (47%), July (76%), August (61%) and September (56%) were all significantly higher than they were in the pandemic summer of 2020. Even so, the monthly averages were otherwise relatively on par with stats from 2018 and 2019. The numbers still pale in comparison to a typical, non-COVID winter, when the peak months of January, February and March all average in the 70% to 80% occupancy range.
Snowmass Transit Redevelopment Doubles in Price
Snowmass Village officials aren’t exactly thrilled about the latest cost projections for a new transit center on the Snowmass Mall, which have come in at nearly $26.2 million — more than double the original price tag of $13 million, the Aspen Times reported. The increase comes from a 2019 estimate that was based on ballpark figures of construction costs that may not have accounted for higher prices in mountain communities like Snowmass Village.
Then there are significant design updates from the past two years. Those include the addition of a second story to the building at the heart of the transit hub, relocation of the connecting road between upper Brush Creek Road and lower Carriage Way and expanded scope of the snowmelt system that keeps that road clear. And more advances in the design process also have come with more details on soils in the area and what costs will be associated with building a stable platform.
Downtowner May Get Basalt Test Drive
Downtowner, an on-demand ride service that allows people to request free transportation through an app on their smartphones, might be headed to Basalt soon, the Aspen Daily News reported. Basalt City Council is mulling the service as a free service targeted to residents to provide on-demand rides between popular destinations like Old Town and Willits in Basalt. Downtowner would also look to transport people from local neighborhoods to RFTA bus stops along or near Highway 82. If hired, Downtowner would provide two vehicles, its own drivers and likely operate for a nine-month pilot-program, with ride services discontinuing in May, October and November. It already operates in Aspen.
Basalt Council Approves Sketch Plan for Last Willits Parcel
The Basalt Town Council gave approval to a sketch plan by Possumco LLC for the Sopris Meadows Subdivision Parcel 5, the last undeveloped residential parcel in Willits, the Aspen Daily News reported. Possumco’s chief, Michael Lipkin, developed Willits Town Center and wants to build 111 free-market condominiums and 44 rental units that would provide affordable housing on the 12-acre section between Willits Lane and East Valley Road.
Basalt Sales Set Records
The town of Basalt’s September sales tax collections were nearly 20% higher than the same month in 2020, which was also strong because of the COVID-19 rebound, the Aspen Times reported. The September sales tax report reflects actual sales in August, which is historically one of Basalt’s strongest months. Last year established a record for sales and sales tax collections in Basalt. This year is blowing by that record year and far outpacing pre-COVID numbers. Some of the big winners for the month of August were lodges, restaurants, general retail and building materials.
Eagle Buffer Zone in Aspen Glen Stays Put
A decades-old eagle nest buffer zone in Aspen Glen Club will remain intact for the foreseeable future following a Garfield County Commission decision to deny the Aspen Glen Golf Company’s request to lift wildlife protections in an undeveloped area for more residential building, the Aspen Daily News reported. Four hundred people signed petitions asking the commissioners to deny the application, which would have resulted in 26 new homes.
In 2018, the tree supporting the historic eagles nest was lost in a windstorm forcing the large birds to relocate — although not far. Proponents of the protective overlay contend that eagles and numerous other species still utilize the coveted open space area within Aspen Glen.
Council Approves Project, Rezoning
The Glenwood Springs City Council approved the annexation and rezoning of nearly 16 acres in West Glenwood for the proposed 480 Donegan project, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent reported. The approval capped a monthslong negotiation process with the developers, R2 Partners, that featured several meetings, postponements and a cornucopia of public comment — primarily opposed to the development.
Originally pitched as multiple apartment complexes containing more than 400 apartments, R2 Partners responded to community feedback and council with numerous changes to the proposal, presenting a potential housing plan that could include 272 multi-family residential units, residences, including 40 for-sale townhomes, 13 live-work units and about 220 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments.
RFTA Hopes Fare Reductions Will Increase Ridership
The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority approved a new fare plan that hopes to incentivize transit use in light of a 40% decrease in ridership between 2019 and now, the Aspen Daily News reported. The plan includes the continuity of the free Aspen-Snowmass No Fare Service as is, the consolidation of the Basalt and El Jebel zones into a single zone, free rides within a zone, $2 to get to the next zone and $1 for each additional zone thereafter. RFTA currently charges $1 for rides within a zone, $2 to get to the next zone and an additional $1 for every zone thereafter.
There are currently seven zones within the RFTA limits between Aspen and Rifle. Consolidating the El Jebel and Basalt zones into one will decrease the number of zones between both ends and decrease fares. Under the new fare structure, ridership is expected to increase by 10%, and fare revenue is estimated to decrease by 21%, or $693,000.
APCHA Updates Some Program Details
The Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority is planning to move ahead with a new capital repairs program next year and asked the city to help fund a grant writer position as part of its 2022 work plan, the Aspen Daily News reported. APCHA requested $100,000 — 50% of which would come from the city and 50% from the county — to hire someone who could help research and write grants, which would seek federal funds for renovations and energy-efficiency projects.
APCHA’s work plan also includes regulation changes, community engagement and sellers’ standards for maintenance and major capital repairs. The capital repairs program deals with the housing stock and how APCHA keeps it updated. The board approved the program by a regulation, which said that new homes must be inspected.
Record-Breaking Visitor Numbers Reported for September
Aspen-Snowmass’ record-breaking summer tourism season continued in September, with combined lodging occupancy of 64% — a 20% increase over the September occupancy rate in the pre-pandemic year of 2019, the Aspen Daily News reported. Aspen had occupancy of 69.3% in September, besting the former record of 65.3% in September 2017. And Snowmass also achieved a new record with 55.8% occupancy. It can be attributed to the Food & Wine Classic taking place later in the year, along with Ruggerfest, JAS/Labor Day weekend, and events and weddings.
SkiCo Announces Vaccine Requirements for Winter
Guests’ vaccines are required for all of SkiCo’s owned and operated hotels, full-service seated restaurants, powder tours and additional experiences where prolonged close contact among the unmasked might occur, the Aspen Daily News reported. Proof of vaccination is not required for lift access, Ski & Snowboard School lessons, market-style restaurants, rental shops or ticket offices. Guests 12 years old and over will be required to show proof of vaccination — either with an approved physical vaccine card, photograph of a vaccine card or an approved vaccine verification application, as well as proof of identity when entering or checking in to the restricted facilities or activities.
Green, Luxury Resort Proposed for Crystal Mill
Crystal Mill owner Chris Cox and his development partner, Stuart Gillespie, want to build a high-end winter and summer retreat that will offer guided and unguided backcountry skiing in the winter, and hiking, biking, horseback riding and fly-fishing in the summer, the Aspen Times reported. The project would also include 20 luxury cabins along the North and South forks of the Crystal River and a farm-to-table restaurant.
In exchange for the right to develop 15 acres of the 750-plus acres Cox owns — plans have not yet been formally submitted to Gunnison County — Cox and Gillespie are proposing a series of pro-environment initiatives, including green building techniques; hydro, solar and geothermal-generated energy; an all-electric fleet of service vehicles; and a conservation easement on 85% of the property that would stop development forever.