Sports

Springs angles to be a winter sports destination

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Courtesy Monarch Mountain

Becky and David Leinweber close their shop, Angler’s Covey, every New Year’s Day so they and their staff can go fishing.

Fishing is a four-season sport, Becky Leinweber said, and the Pikes Peak region is a four-season destination, also offering ice fishing, Nordic and cross-country skiing, hiking, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, ice climbing, ice skating and sledding in the winter.

Seasonal tourism statistics bear that out. While late spring, summer and early fall is peak season, tourist numbers stay fairly steady throughout the year, said Alexea Veneracion, director of communications for Visit Colorado Springs.

Here’s the breakdown, from Longwoods International’s 2021 research study:

• January-March: 21 percent

• April-June: 26 percent

• July-September: 30 percent

• October-December: 24 percent

Visit COS and the Colorado Springs Airport encourage winter visitation by promoting the sports and recreational activities visitors can participate in while they’re here.

Of course, skiing is Colorado’s No. 1 winter activity, and Denver International Airport grabs the lion’s share of out-of-state skiers.

““We like partners that offer a smaller, more intimate experience.” — Eva Egbert

But for the past couple of years, COS has promoted the area as “the gateway to the mountains” and “an equally viable starting point,” said Greg Phillips, COS director of aviation.

“What I hear from a lot of people, and my own experience, is that it is actually easier to get to the mountains from Colorado Springs than it is from Denver,” Phillips said. “You don’t have to take the Interstate raceway. Highway 24, while it can get busy, is a pretty drive — it’s a Colorado drive.

COS partners with the closest ski resort, Monarch Mountain, and shows promotions for the resort on video screens in the terminal. Monarch promotes the airport on its website and social media and offers a discount to skiers who show a boarding pass from a flight into COS.

“It’s the only airport we work with,” said Eva Egbert, marketing admin manager for Monarch Mountain.

FLYING COS

The airport is promoting COS as an alternative destination through an increased presence on the Ski Country USA website, Phillips said.

“We use some of the LART [Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax] dollars we receive to promote inbound travel to Colorado from key ski markets,” he said.

Texas is a big ski market, with flights from Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental and William P. Hobby airports, he said.

Southwest flights should be particularly attractive to inbound winter travelers because “bags fly free,” Phillips said. “That means oversized bags, too, whereas with other carriers, they charge for their bags.”

The bags-fly-free policy and low fares “make a pretty good combination,” he said.

Southwest serves five destinations directly to and from Colorado Springs in a network that connects with almost 100 other destinations, he said.

COS already handles oversized baggage such as skis, snowboards and golf bags, but is building a new system specifically to handle larger baggage. Construction is set to begin next spring, Phillips said.

The airport also is considering a shuttle service between Colorado Springs and the mountain ski resorts similar to DIA’s Epic Mountain Express, he said.

“We’ve not been able to make that happen yet, but it’s something we’d like to see,” he said.

It’s difficult to say what percentage of the winter sports market COS captures, compared with DIA, Phillips said.

“There’s no question, though, that we’re seeing a lot more people traveling, and we will be tracking [that] through the winter,” he said. “When we compare that with previous winters, that’s how we’re going to start to analyze what portion of traffic may be coming for winter sports opportunities.

“It’s only been in the last two winters that we’ve started promoting this,” he said. Added service by Southwest “has given us the impetus and the ability to start pushing that winter sports traffic.”

MARKETING MONARCH

Monarch offers COS fliers 40 percent off a $64 lift ticket, Egbert said, and promotes the offer at the airport and over social media.

“We like partners that offer a smaller, more intimate experience, and that’s what COS is, rather than Denver,” she said.

Monarch recommends lodging in Salida and other small towns close to the ski area, which is located on U.S. Forest Service land and can’t build its own lodging.

But the ski area works with Colorado Springs outfitters such as REI.

“We have their employees come and ski free to have that experience on weekdays so they can talk with customers about their experience,” Egbert said. Monarch also partners with other ski areas to offer Colorado Springs fourth and fifth graders free skiing and significant discounts on rentals and lessons.

This year, Monarch discontinued a promotion with Manitou Springs, which allowed shoppers in Manitou stores who spent at least $75 to bring receipts to the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce office and purchase significantly discounted Monarch ski passes.

“We are trying to get away from a lot of coupons and discounts, which were really confusing to our ticket windows staff,” Egbert said. Instead, Monarch is offering lower rates on slower days to skiers who book online in advance.

“That way, we can continue providing that special experience with no lift lines and no overcrowded runs,” she said.

PROMOTING THE SPRINGS

Visit COS also markets Colorado Springs as a great alternative to flying into Denver to get to the slopes, but also as a base camp for winter activities.

“We have pretty much every winter sport you could think of — snowshoeing, hiking in the winter, cross-country skiing, ice skating, horseback riding, ice climbing, ice fishing, off-roading, ziplining,” Veneracion said.

Ice fishing starts around Thanksgiving and is popular through mid-March, she said. Popular ice fishing areas include Eleven Mile State Park and Tarryall Reservoir.

“A lot of great organizations that are locally owned can help with winter sports that people want to try,” she said.

Front Range Climbing Co. offers equipment and guided ice climbing experiences in locations from Silver Cascade Falls in North Cheyenne Cañon to Clear Creek Canyon outside Denver, as well as custom-designed climbs.

Academy Riding Stables books horseback rides through Garden of the Gods.

“There are a lot of local outfitters where you can rent snowshoes and skis,” Veneracion said. These include REI, Rocky Mountain Ski + Sport, Epic Mountain Gear, The Ski Shop, Gearonimo Sports, Christy Sports Ski and Patio, Mountain Chalet, Pikes Peak Outfitter, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Mountain Equipment Recycling, Play It Again Sports and Scheels.

“A lot of people don’t realize how big the industry is,” she said.

Local outdoor enthusiasts help bolster the industry.

“People move here oftentimes specifically to take advantage of being able to be outdoors, because they know that they can be out on the trails and taking advantage of the 300 days of sunshine,” Veneracion said. “I’m one of those people — I will hike all winter long. I’ll be out on the trails with my snowshoes or my spikes to put on my hiking boots.”

Visit COS promotes winter sports through blog content on social media channels.

“We have a lot of blog posts specific to activities you can do throughout the winter,” she said. “We also have some that focus on off-season promotion and continue some of the advertising” that brings people here in spring, summer and fall.

Visit COS does not partner with any of the ski

resorts, “but a lot of our partners do,” Veneracion said. “A transportation partner of ours, Rocky Mountain Ride, does ski shuttles from Colorado Springs each day departing at 6 a.m. with service to Monarch and Breckenridge. It’s very affordable.”

YEAR-ROUND FISHING

The Leinwebers, who also own Pikes Peak Outfitters and Colorado Tackle Pro, take clients fishing year round.

“Even on days when it’s snowing, fish have to eat,” Becky Leinweber said. People still catch fish; they just need to be aware of cold-weather measures such as how to keep rods from freezing and not overhandling the fish.

Small streams will be frozen, “but there are still lots of places to go and enjoy fishing,” she said. “A lot of people go on the reservoirs that freeze over and switch to ice fishing during the winter.”

Colorado Tackle Pro offers guided ice fishing and rents and sells ice augers and huts, she said.

People don’t have to go far to participate in other winter sports, Leinweber said.

Mueller State Park “has amazing snowshoeing opportunities,” she said.

Woodmoor Nordic Center, a nonprofit organization, offers cross-country skiing on groomed trails on the golf course at The Country Club at Woodmoor when there’s enough snow. The center rents equipment when the ski trails are open.

“As people discover how awesome this area is for the outdoors, they’re learning about it for all four seasons,” Leinweber said.

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