As of late spring, summer business was looking up, down, or on par-—for many different reasons. Remember the good old days when there were pandemic restrictions? When house-bound Americans were so eager to get out of the house for some fresh air they flocked to the mountains in record numbers? Now that the pandemic is over, restrictions lifted, the job market strong, and vacationers anxious to get back on the road again, what is in store for our mountain resorts this summer? Will all those new people come back or go elsewhere, now that elsewhere is a possibility? It depends—on the region, on whether guests are flying or driving, going to a wedding or conference, or playing golf. WEST: RESERVATIONS DOWN At Aspen Snowmass, VP of communications Jeff Hanle said summer bookings were down 15-20 percent compared to last year as of mid-May. “It was a long, snowy spring, so that may change,” he added. Summer reservations are also down a bit at Telluride, said Patrick Latcham, VP, sales and marketing. “We’re a little behind last year’s lodging pace at this time, but ahead of 2019, pre-pandemic.” A general downward trend is reflected in the data. As of May 31, summer bookings at Western destination lodging properties were lagging behind 2022 as well as the pre-pandemic summer of 2019, according to DestiMetrics, part of the business intelligence division of Inntopia. DestiMetrics data are drawn from lodging properties in 17 mountain communities across Colorado, Utah, California, Nevada, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, and comprise 55 percent of the available rental units in those communities. On-the-books occupancy for the summer season from May through October was down 5 percent compared to last year as of May 31, with decreases in all six months. That was an improvement from a month prior, when occupancy for the summer was down 9.1 percent. The recovery was achieved via lower room rates—the average daily rate (ADR) for summer was up 6.5 percent year-over-year as of March 31, and softened to an increase of just 0.9 percent two months later. Summer ADR was still up a whopping 41.9 percent compared to the same time in 2019, though. Meanwhile, summer occupancy was down 8.4 percent compared to the same period in 2019. Various variables: Hanle said it was difficult to pinpoint the reason behind the year-over-year decline in bookings. “International outbound travel is fully open, so some of our guests are taking advantage of that. Airfare is still expensive and air travel is difficult. It could be any of a number of reasons. There are so many variables that come into play, we cannot accurately forecast business levels yet.” To incentivize bookings, Latcham said Telluride did offer a 20 percent off lodging deal in the spring. But overall, he said, “we’re engaging with people who came the last couple of years to get them to come back more on their experience than on a discount incentive.” According to Hanle, Aspen Snowmass was also focusing on the guest experience rather than offering incentives to boost business. “We will continue to support our tourism organizations and concentrate on providing a top tier on-mountain experience for guests who do visit,” he said. Latcham noted that a slower summer will actually be more sustainable. “During the Covid years we had struggles with staffing, demand. It made it harder to manage. We’re looking forward to a great summer ahead.” EAST AND MIDWEST: LOOKING GOOD Camelback’s location in Pennsylvania, within driving distance to millions of people, is keeping Covid visitors coming back again this summer, according to Camelback marketing director Molly Coneybeer. “As of right now, we’re a little ahead of last year,” she said. “We’re seeing a lot of new guests out of Covid coming back again, which is great.” Keep it fresh: But Coneybeer said location is only part of the draw. Keeping attractions fresh and varied is also important. Camelbeach, the resort’s outdoor water park, is celebrating 25 years with lots of events and a new eight-track water slide. And guests can now opt for the “Superman” position (body facing down instead of seated) while riding the resort’s 4,000-foot zip line. Camelback’s (Pa.) zip line now features a new “Superman” position. “We have tons of lodging packages, mountain activities, value passes. We’re able to accommodate everybody,” said Coneybeer. At Jay Peak, Vt., summer lodging reservations are pacing 20 percent ahead of last year, said communications manager Mike Chait. “While retail and group sales are contributing in part to this increase, the most significant driver is a robust return of hockey camps. We’re seeing double those numbers over last year,” he said. Chait said expanded operations at both the resort’s water park and tram are also contributing to the increase. “We’re not quite back to pre-pandemic levels, but it allows us to do more aggressive marketing midweek,” he noted. Also, the reopening of the Canadian border should boost golf, music festivals are back, and the area has sold out of its “Relocation Vacations” and may add more, said Chait. Introduced during the pandemic, Relocation Vacations give guests the chance to book monthly or seasonal condo stays with golf and pool access. Smugglers’ Notch, Vt., is also pacing favorably to last summer, said Steve Clokey, VP/marketing. “We pride ourselves on offering our guests extensive and unique summer amenities and activities that cater to families, and because of that we don’t anticipate the numbers to dwindle,” he said. At Crystal Mountain, Mich., summer bookings are on par with last year and some events are already tracking ahead, said director of communications Brittney Primeau. Drivable destinations. “From a Michigan standpoint, reports show more people are interested in drivable destinations, so we are focusing our marketing efforts in the Midwest,” added Primeau. “Being located in the northern lower peninsula, Crystal is situated quite nicely for those who want to drive to us and explore the area.” GOLF: AGING DOWN? Thanks to its five golf courses, and a resurgence in the sport brought on by the pandemic, Shanty Creek, Mich., is also looking forward to another strong summer. Golfing is in full swing at Shanty Creek, Mich. “Michigan had really tight restrictions during the pandemic, but one thing people were allowed to do was golf,” said director of marketing Lindsay Southwell. “That first summer, 2020, everybody came out. That year and the last two, there was a big resurgence and interest in golf. For many, many years, golf was flat. Covid really brought people out.” Southwell said bookings this summer look comparable to the Covid summers. “The Covid surge for winter operations seems to be over. Not for summer.” Also, unlike skiing, Southwell said golf appears to be aging down. “We’ve noticed a lot more younger people, college buddies golfing.” She also noted the resort’s proximity to a large chain of lakes is a big draw. “It’s a really sought-after destination. We’re the closest, only 15-20 minutes away.” GROUPS AND WEDDING BELLS In addition to golf and nearby lakes, Shanty Creek also has 35,000 square feet of meeting and conference space. “Last summer was the first year we felt our conference business was back close to pre-pandemic levels,” Southwell said. “There’s no hesitation to book. It’s looking good.” At capacity. Jamie Cobbett, marketing manager at Waterville Valley, N.H., agreed: “The biggest thing we’re seeing now is the conference and group business coming back, post pandemic. Weddings, also. We really had only one summer wedding during the pandemic. This summer we’re at about full capacity with weddings. We’ve got about 50-60 weddings, plus conference business. The facility is pretty much booked up starting the first of May through October. Occupancy is looking great.” Crystal is seeing the same trend, according to Primeau, who noted, “we have more group stays on the books than leisure at the moment.” Ragged Mountain, N.H., with little lodging, does predominantly corporate outings, group meetings, and weddings in the summer, said marketing manager Kyle Matzke. “Statistically, things are looking pretty good, on par with an average season.” WHAT POST-PANDEMIC GUESTS WANT Resorts say post-pandemic vacationers want all the same things now that brought them to the mountains in the first place: “Outdoor recreation at varying degrees of experience and skills,” said Snowmass’ Hanle. “Mountain biking, hiking, yoga, fresh air and wide-open spaces and vistas.” “They want options,” agreed Primeau. “I wouldn’t say that’s necessarily a result of the pandemic, but the past couple of summers did shine a light on how nice it is to have options. “If there’s something else guests may be looking for after the restricted summers of the pandemic, I would say events, particularly outdoors,” she continued. “Last summer, we were thrilled to bring back the Michigan Beer & Brat Festival, which was successful, but is already proving to be on track for more success this year.” Crystal hosts the Michigan Beer & Brat Festival. Primeau also pointed out that travelers are looking a little deeper when choosing where to go this summer. “Lastly, people are looking for cleanliness, sustainability, and diversity,” she said. “Value,” added Coneybeer at Camelback. “Everybody’s always looking for value.” And finally, normalcy, said Smuggs’ Clokey. “The pandemic summers resulted in limited spaces and more restrictions,” he said. “As we’ve come out of the pandemic, we have relaxed restrictions on the amount of people in facilities at one time and controlling the crowds. Guests are feeling far more back to normal.” And after three years of abnormal, that’s a good thing.