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Aspen expecting fullest house in at least six years

Compiled by Allen Best

ASPEN, Colo. - It was the week before Christmas, and in Aspen they were expecting crowds not seen since 1997-98.

"If we had an unlimited supply of ski-in, ski-out condominiums, airlines eats, and four-wheel-drive rental cars, we could probably sell this resort three times over, based on the demand we're seeing," said Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, a reservations agency that handles 7 per cent of overall bookings. Individual properties, reports The Aspen Times, are reporting similar demands. One chalet owner, for example reports that January is "absolutely full."

Demand at last year's Christmas holiday was also strong, but took a dive after President Bush announced in late January potential war against Iraq.

Both Aspen and Vail face a pinch of outbound airlines seats during the first week of January. In response, some vacationers are lengthening their stays.

How can ski areas cater to minority racial groups?

DENVER, Colo. - In 50 years, people with black hair - primarily Hispanics, blacks, and Asians - will outnumber pale-skinned people in the United States. But, at present, only 8 per cent of the nation's skiers and snowboarders are Hispanic or of colour.

The ski industry hasn't ignored these trends. In Southern California, several resorts have done very well catering to Hispanics who are part of the skatebaord culture. And Tahoe-area resorts are seeing increasing numbers of Asian descent.

In Colorado, though, skiing remains distinctly a white sport. Hispanic activists want to change that, and they cite evidence that minorities who are the majority in some jurisdictions, including Denver, are very interested in the sport.

It's not a problem of money, points out Bill Jensen, chief operating officer at Vail Mountain. With discounted season tickets, skiing is now readily accessible to nearly all income brackets. The problem is, in some ways, more broad. "If you've never experienced it, if it's not a part of your lifestyle, then price really doesn't matter," Jensen told The Denver Post. "We need to do a better job with our visibility and communications."

Manny Fields, co-founder of Denver's Altura Communications, says the key is finding a ski industry message that will resonate across all cultures.

Funicular as a novelty annoys Vail neighbours

VAIL, Colo. - It may be premature to call it a fad, but Vail town officials are being careful nonetheless.

Two funiculars, which are tram-like devices on rails, have been built to homes on steep slopes that are otherwise reached only by dozens or hundreds of steps. Now, a third funicular has been installed to a home, but this time seemingly for its novelty. The home is otherwise reached by cars from both the top and bottom. Neighbours objected to the shiny rails in otherwise wildflower-strewn meadows.

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