Eagle's Rest lift opening

Skiers watch and wait during the opening ceremony of the new Eagle’s Rest chairlift last month. It’s one of the upgrades the resort made to smooth out the experience for skiers and snowboarders.

Advance hotel bookings for the winter are a bit off from a year ago, but tourism officials anticipate a comeback.

December was strong, they said, and with the recent snow and the power of social media to spread the word, they are confident that out-of-town powder hounds will lock down Jackson Hole plans.

“We had a robust December, and January appears to be coming around,” said Jim Waldrop, president of Silver Dollar Inc., which manages The Wort Hotel and the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar for Baxter Properties. “Certainly the snow that has been coming ... really did help make the phones ring.”

Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce President Anna Olson expects December occupancy totals to come in at least at last year’s level or slightly ahead.

As for what lies beyond, “the forecast for the winter is slightly down, but the majority of that, in the moment, is in March,” Olson said. “January and February are looking flat to just slightly behind.”

That could turn around quickly. Skiers want to go where the snow is, she said, and multiresort passes give them flexibility.

“The ski industry is a much later booking pattern than it ever has been,” she said. “Those figures will fill in. We’re still eight weeks away.”

Jackson Hole’s hospitality industry has shown it can be nimble.

From Thanksgiving to Dec. 20, Olson said, airlines serving Jackson Hole saw a 10% increase in load factors, which is the ratio of seats occupied by passengers. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort had moved its Golden Ticket promotion, formerly a January promotion, to that period, combining 50% off daily lift tickets with half-price deals on lodging, restaurants and other amenities early in the season.

“There was a real effort in the community to put some weight behind that timeframe,” Olson said. “It’s a good indicator that we could shift some travel into that timeframe.”

Under the new Golden Ticket schedule the promotion will kick back in in the middle of March through April 12.

“We really wanted to spread visitation out through the season,” said Tyler LaMotte, chief brand officer for Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

So far this winter the resort has not noticed a dearth of tourists.

“We had a great holiday period,” LaMotte said. “From a visitation standpoint, we had a ton of destination visitors.”

He didn’t share numbers, but he said the resort can quantify destination visitors based on information from the Ski School, gear rentals, hotels, airlines and other sources.

“All those indicators show where people are coming from,” LaMotte said.

Destination visitors are “high quality” and sought after, he said. They stay longer and spend money on amenities and services.

“From a business standpoint we were pleased,” he said.

Last season a record 715,000 skiers at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort packed parking lots to capacity and created lift lines of unprecedented length.

For this season the resort took a number of steps to prepare for crowds, including adding 250 parking spots at the Stilson lot, beefing up express shuttle service between Stilson and Teton Village, reopening the Eagles Rest lift and adding cabins to the Sweetwater Gondola.

“We had things run very, very smoothly over the peak holiday period,” LaMotte said. “From parking to lift wait times, everything was really flowing.”

Getting into a good snow cycle “sends us down a good path,” he said.

Waldrop is optimistic about winter 2019-20.

“We believe things will come back around on all aspects,” he said. “Our trend as hospitality folks is to work with all our partners to create incentives for people to book and to come in earlier.”

Contact Jennifer Dorsey at jennifer@jhnewsandguide.com or 732-5908.

Jennifer Dorsey is chief copy editor and Business section coordinator. She worked in Washington, D.C., and Chicago before moving to the Tetons.

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