Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – In a typical January, Tomasita’s, a popular Santa Fe restaurant, sees an influx of patrons about 4:35 p.m, manager Ignacio Patsalis says.
Ski Santa Fe closes its basin at 4 p.m., and many of those who have spent a day on the slopes head directly to the Railyard eatery, which serves up New Mexican classics. The parking lot can be full of vehicles with license plates from states such as California, Texas and Arizona.
But this winter season’s dramatically dry weather means fewer runs on the ski mountains. And that can translate to fewer people ordering up enchiladas, margaritas and red or green at places like Tomasita’s.
“Usually if they come in, you see them in their ski outfits and their tags on,” Patsalis said. “And I haven’t seen any of that this year.”
Still, midway through the season, it’s too soon to tell the full impact of the dearth of good powder. Most hotel, restaurant and other tourism leaders interviewed in Santa Fe over the past week say the drought hasn’t been catastrophic.
But there are fears that come March, the standard crowds of spring-breaking families might stay away if there’s not more snow by then.
“Call me in April, I’ll be either happy or miserable,” said Paul Margetson, Hotel Santa Fe’s managing director.
Elsewhere in northern New Mexico, businesses have already taken a hard hit.
“It’s been a really slow year for the tourism,” said Dan Kostohryz, chef and general manager of Sabroso Restaurant and Bar in Arroyo Seco, a small village between Taos and Taos Ski Valley that caters to visitors. He estimated recent business is about 25 percent less than what it was last year.
Because fewer visitors are coming down from the mountain for happy hour and dinner, Kostohryz said, he had to cut a couple of seasonal workers. “All we’re hoping is for late snow and a good spring break,” he said.
In Santa Fe, Patsalis described Tomasita’s business this winter as “off the pace” but still OK. He hasn’t had to make any out-of-the-ordinary staffing adjustments for a time of year considered the local hospitality industry’s slow time, compared to crowded summers.
Many in the capital city say a busy holiday season and another annual attraction – the legislative session at the Roundhouse – have helped. And visitors who made plans to ski still can – albeit mostly on man-made snow – or find other things to do around town.
Randy Randall, director of the TOURISM Santa Fe city government agency, says firm numbers on how the lack of snow is affecting tourism won’t be available until data from January, February and March are available.
And he isn’t so sure that the ski industry is the main driver of Santa Fe’s tourism trade during the cold-weather months.
“We’ve always kind of wondered if people come to Santa Fe to ski” or if the slopes are just part of the attraction, he said. “I don’t anticipate our ski business at the same level of intensity like those (resorts) in Colorado that are deserted when there isn’t snow,” Randall said.
Sam Gerberding, general manager at the downtown Inn of the Governors, said his hotel “has seen less skiers, but also simultaneously good business.”
Gerberding mentioned two possibilities: either the warmer weather is actually attracting tourists, or those who booked trips expecting good skiing conditions adjust their itineraries to do other things during a Santa Fe vacation.
“It’s Santa Fe,” he said. “It’s not like (skiing is) all we have.”
Dean Alexis, whose restaurants include Upper Crust Pizza, which is downtown near the Roundhouse, said warmer days have actually meant better business for him. That’s because visitors are more likely to walk around downtown and spend money.
“When there’s layers of ice and snow on the sidewalks, people want to stay in,” he said.
Hotels holding steady
According to lodging reports distributed by the New Mexico Hospitality Association, Santa Fe’s overall hotel occupancy rate for a dry December 2017 was 58.7 percent, just slightly lower than the 59.4 percent in December 2016.
Randall noted that average daily room rates and revenue earned per room both saw increases by several dollars. Revenue per available room figures are the best indicator “as far as health of the industry goes,” he said, because it combines how much customers pay and the hotels’ occupancy figures.
Jayne Weiske, marketing director at La Fonda on the Plaza, said that if there is any obvious economic impact from the dry weather, it will show up when kids are out of school for spring break and families can take their ski trips.
Margetson, of Hotel Santa Fe, said that for now, fewer skiers means just one or two fewer rooms booked than usual.
But after 30 years in the business, he says he’s never seen a dry winter quite like this in Santa Fe. And that causes concerns not just for the lack of snow, but because droughts can have long-term environmental effects. “It’s kind of scary,” he said.
Some restaurant owners may be feeling an impact from the dry winter.
“It’s easy to get a restaurant reservation, I can tell you,” Chamber of Commerce director Simon Brackley said about Santa Fe these days, adding that he’s seen a “dropoff” in visitors since the two weeks over Christmas and New Year’s.
Del Charro – the saloon connected to the Inn of the Governors – preps for slow months in the winter, but “definitely the (lack of) snow hasn’t helped for it to pick up,” said food and beverage director Jose Guzman.
People coming down from the ski basin typically drive up his numbers. Compared to this time last year, Guzman said, Del Charro has been about half as busy. “It’s been a lot slower,” he said. But another factor could be a renovation project on Del Charro’s 50-seat patio.
What The Bull Ring steakhouse in downtown Santa Fe misses these days is a particular class of customers.
Owner Harry Georgeades said his number of diners has remained steady. But he’s not seeing the higher-dollar checks that certain skiers run up.
In particular, Georgeades said, snowy Decembers attract large families of Texas skiers who are often big spenders.
“You need a lot more volume when they’re not in town,” he said.
Like others in the tourism business, he’s hoping for more snow by March.
Unlike Margetson, Georgeades said he’s seen dry winters like this sporadically throughout his 40 years of business in Santa Fe – and they have a visible impact on the city.
“But they’ll be back,” he said of those who may choose to forego a winter trip to the City Different. “And we’ll welcome them.”