Many Grand County businesses saw a welcome influx of tourists during the holiday season, with both alpine ski resorts in the county seeing large numbers of visitors as well as lodging companies and the Grand Park Community Recreation Center."It seemed like the holidays were very strong," said Catherine Ross, executive director of the Winter Park & Fraser Chamber of Commerce. "We had great snow and good crowds."Winter Park Resort saw a substantial increase in visitors from last year with lodging being booked at 90 percent capacity and the ski school having the busiest two weeks it has ever seen, said Steve Hurlbert, Winter Park Resort's public relations and communications manager."The Max Four [ski school] programs had the best participation they have ever seen," Hurlbert said.Much of the success the resort saw was due to the timing of the snow that started falling before Christmas and continued to fall into the new year with more than 24 inches accumulating during the eight days of the holiday season."The response we have been receiving from the guests has been incredible," Hurlbert said."The Torchlight Parade was the largest it has been in a long time," he said. "Making the event even more special was that it was snowing and it also snowed on Christmas."The Christmas and New Year's events that took place elsewhere in the county saw a good amount of guests as well.Granby Ranch had packed parking lots throughout the holiday season and sported a full house for its New Year's Eve celebration."The restaurant had been booked a week and a half in advance and the party room on the second floor had standing room only," said Lisa Craig, marketing director for Granby Ranch. "It was just a fantastic crowd of kids and adults watching the fireworks and the torchlight parade."The Grand Park Community Recreation Center is in its third year of operation and saw close to 900 visitors per day during the holidays. The center also had a large turnout for its New Years Eve celebration at the community ice rink.To Scott Ledin, director of parks and recreation for the Fraser Valley Metropolitan Recreation District, the large turnout over the holidays demonstrated that the new recreation center is continuing to operate efficiently."Its good to have options available to our guests in the community," Ledin said.Fraser Valley businesses are looking forward to what the next few months have in store with Mary Jane's Birthday Bash taking place Jan. 25-27, the Winter Park Winter Carnival starting on Jan. 26, and the Winter Park Snow Dash taking place Jan. 26 as well.Also helping to keep the ball rolling is a group of 1,100 college students who will be in the valley this coming week with a group called Lifestyles. The group will be skiing and staying in the Winter Park area.Grand LakeThe Sagebrush Bar and Grill in Grand Lake worked to attract customers on New Year's Eve with a crab and prime rib dinner."We weren't as busy on New Year's Eve as last year, down by about 15 percent on the day, but that's because New Year's Eve was on a Saturday last year," said Sagebrush owner Dave Freeman.But it appears a holiday during the work week spread out business overall, he said."Then if you look at the whole week, a couple days before Christmas to two days after the new year, we were up about 10 percent." Although many Grand Lake business fortunes weigh heavily on the presence of snow, Freeman said he had the best Thanksgiving his business has ever had this year due to the warm weather.Yet Spirit Lake Lodge owner Kystyna Sobon said her lodging and snowmobile-rental business was down by about 50 percent this Christmas holiday because of the late start in snowfall. New Year's Eve was the only night she had a full house, she said; otherwise visitation was significantly lacking.A strong economic factor in town is the 4-mile link of snowmobile trail that connects downtown Grand Lake to the U.S. Forest trail system near town. Two miles of the trail travels through what is considered sensitive terrain in Rocky Mountain National Park, and District Ranger Mark McCutcheon holds the key to opening and closing the trail each season in an effort to ensure rider safety and prevent resource damage on Park land.This year, that trail did not open until Dec. 22, which Sobon said hurt hers and others' businesses considerably leading up to the holiday. Reservations may have been down due to guests unsure about whether that trail would be open.When snowmobilers are forced to trailer their machines to the trail system trailhead rather than ride snowmobiles to and from the downtown, Sobon said, the town generally loses out on tourism dollars. Riders not connected to the downtown with their snowmobiles spend less in meals, shopping, fuel or in-town lodging.Because of use of the trail during the holidays and the need for more snow, the Park made the decision to re-close the trail on Jan. 2, according to McCutcheon."We had a very heavy amount of snowmobile use on the trial, which pulverized what we did have, and now we're down to an inch of brown ice," McCutcheon said on Wednesday, Jan. 2. "We are all doing our snow dance. That's the underlying issue here: lack of snow."The district ranger said he may consider re-opening the trail if 6 inches falls, but he would prefer a foot.McCutcheon said he opened the trail before the holidays under "marginal conditions. "I want to be as liberal as I possibly can without seriously sacrificing the safety and resources I'm trying to protect," he said.Meanwhile, Rocky Mountain National Park west-end visitation during the holidays seemed "consistent, steady and encouraging," McCutcheon said.At the Visitor's Center at the Grand Lake entrance on Highway 34, the Grand Lake Chamber of Commerce is reporting an increase in visitation and calls to the center by about 23.54 percent compared with last year, from Dec. 22 - Jan 1.And Grand Lake and Granby retailer Jay Young, owner of Grand Mountain Trading Company, said business was "decent" over the holidays."It certainly wasn't our best Christmas, but it was a good one," he said. Outdoor insulated apparel and boots finally started selling a couple of weeks ago, he said.In spite of a slight boost in sales when the snow started flying, Young still sees the effects of the overall national economy weighing on buyers' minds. A typical buyer picks up an item, carries it around, thinks about it, and may put it back without committing to a purchase."People aren't spooning out money like they did in the past," Young said, "like they did in 2007. It's a struggle now for people to spend their money."
Many Grand County businesses experience happy holidays
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