[dropcap]B[/dropcap]y this time of year, property managers at Colorado ski resorts have heard it all: Complaints about slow elevators and busted hot tubs, and demands for quicker toasters and thicker bath towels.
But the owner of a Summit County vacation rental business recently got input with a new flavor.
A couple of snowboarders from Maine wrote to say how much they enjoyed their March stay at the condo they rented, and then offered a very specific suggestion about how to equip the place to accommodate their new breed of tourist.
“I say that a small hand sifter (with wire screen) would be nice in the kitchen to help reduce vaporized marijuana to a finer material for cooking,” read the email from “Dave,” a guest who asked for anonymity.
Dave went on to explain that this was their first time in Colorado, and that he and his wife came partly to snowboard but mainly to “help celebrate” the legal sale of pot. As part of that celebration, he noted that they spent 19 days and about $10,000 in the state.
“Yes, we were pot tourists and we enjoyed it very much, thank you,” Dave wrote. “No, we did not smoke in the condo. We do not smoke, we eat and vaporize MJ. Healthier for the lungs.”
There was, naturally, a lot discussion about marijuana tourism before Amendment 64 passed in November 2012. Conservative tourism-related business owners and the Colorado Tourism Office warned that legalization and the riff raff who would come with it could scare off high-dollar family trips.
Sixteen months later, there are still some I-told-you-soers in the industry’s old school.
“I’ve heard from a lot of people who say they’re removing Colorado from their travel plans,” said Colorado Tourism Office director Al White. “There probably are people staying away (because pot) might be one of the factors in their decision matrix.”
In Breckenridge, the “decision matrix” looks very different.
Town Manager Tim Gagen said out-of-towners are flocking to retail marijuana shops. spending more than $760,000 in January alone —enough to keep Cheech and Chong, every fan on their revival tour and all those fans’ friends and family members amply buzzed for the ski season. It’s also enough to net the town about $38,000 from the local excise tax on pot — small potatoes compared to revenues from real estate sales, but still a pleasantly unexpected revenue stream, Gagen said.
Based on ID’s customers have to show at pot shops, local owners estimate that 80 to 90 percent of their customers aren’t locals. So far, well more than half the clientele at a marijuana emporium near the Frisco Walmart come from out of state.
Gagen said he’s a little surprised by the demographic breakdown.
“It’s not all young kids…like you might have expected,” he said. “It’s middle-aged people, baby boomers, reliving their youth.”
Colorado resorts are enjoying a banner year, which I’ll happily attribute to the great snow. But let’s be real about the influx of tourists — plenty have come to experience a fully legal Rocky Mountain high.
Less than three months into legalization, it’s clear that Colorado ski towns have become a magnet for skiers and snowboarders in search of a legal cannabis buzz. While Breckenridge has never had a shortage of cannabis enthusiasts, it’s pretty hard to imagine the town’s 4,500 full-time residents smoking more than 200 pounds of the fragrant flowers.
After reading the suggestion from “Dave,” the thoughtful snowboarding marijuana chef, I called him in Maine to learn a bit more about his trip. He was happy to chat, offering up some of his favorite pot recipes, and making a point to note that he and his wife obeyed all the pertinent rules and regulations, including smoking bans that are in effect in most, if not all, lodging properties.
“I’m just over 60. …We came out to celebrate the legality, also to research the different strains,” he said, describing himself as a retired teacher who smoked pot in college, stopped toking while raising his family and pursuing his career, then renewed his interest when Colorado went legal.
“To actually try something that’s labeled, to read a review about it, it’s just like buying wine,” he said, noting that he and his wife spent vastly less of their vacation money on weed than on lodging, food and lift tickets.
“We didn’t really use that much. We tried to do just one gram at a time … my wife has some ailments,” he said, adding that they were looking for strains that could help alleviate specific symptoms. “We also wanted to come check out the ski areas. We’re snowboarders, but we’ve never snowboarded Colorado, and with legalization, it all came together.”
If Breckenridge’s 237-pound January windfall is any indication, pot tourism is indeed starting to cook in Colorado. State tourism leaders probably aren’t quite ready to superimpose a hemp leaf on the official “C” logo, but they should probably refrain from casting any aspersion on the happy new visitors.
“Dave” from Maine, and all the other “Daves” from all the other states who are flocking here in droves aren’t the dreadlocked hippies tourism boosters feared. They are mainstream Americans (retired teachers!) looking for small hand sifters and a little fun. They’re happy to spend their money in Colorado, and their money is as green as anyone else’s.