Sunday,  July 5, 2020  3:05 pm

Canada's crush on Colorado means record numbers for Denver

Canada's crush on Colorado means record numbers for Denver
From left: Sara Stookey, public relations coordinator, Snowmass Colorado; Kristin Rust, director of public relations, Alterra Mountain Company; Liz Birdsall, a market manager for the Americans, Asia and Australia at the Colorado Tourism Office; Annika Klint, director Canada for the Colorado Tourism Office; Jennifer Backus, senior key account manager, Air Canada
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

The Colorado crush is real.

With four national parks, 58 soaring mountains and 28 areas to ski or snowboard, Colorado is a year-round destination buzzing with things to do, and Canadians are loving it.

According to Air Canada, which operates flights to Denver, CO, from three Canadian cities, passenger capacity from Canada to Denver International Airport (DEN) was up 25 per cent in 2018 compared to the previous year.

Air Canada has a longstanding relationship with the Mile High City since it first introduced direct flights there from Toronto in 1995, then out of Montreal in 2006, and then, most recently from Vancouver in May 2017.

Air Canada's Jennifer Backus reports that Canadian arrivals into Denver International Airport were up 25% last year.

The Vancouver route alone saw a 95 per cent increase over the past year, said Jennifer Backus, a senior key account manager at Air Canada, during a recent event in Toronto, hosted by Visit Colorado, Travel Massive Toronto and its partners at Toronto's Cabin Five. 

“Clearly it’s a popular route and we’re doing something right,” Backus said at the event, which welcomed travel media, bloggers, influencers and suppliers into a venue that,  coincidently, had the look and feel of a Colorado-built cabin or ski chalet.

Air Canada operates two to three flights daily into Denver, Colorado’s capital city, depending on the season, making it “a perfect getaway destination,” Backus said.

There are more than 17 daily non-stop departures between DEN and Canada operated by Air Canada, WestJet, Frontier and United.

The great American road trip 

Last year, more than 190,000 Canadians visited Colorado, which tourism officials call “a gateway to the Rocky Mountains and the West.”

“That number doesn’t do it justice,” Liz Birdsall, a market manager for the Americans, Asia and Australia at the Colorado Tourism Office, told PAX, noting that the Canadian total is higher when you factor in the drive-through traffic.

The western U.S. state of more than 5 million people has landscapes galore, from arid desert to river canyons to the snowy Rocky Mountains to eye-popping structures like The Royal Gorge Bridge, one of the world’s highest suspension bridges.

Colorado's Maroon Bells. More than 190,000 Canadians visited Colorado last year. Photo by Mike Scheid.

“Colorado offers the great American round trip,” Birdsall said, noting how Canadian travel agents could benefit by assembling a unique itinerary around the state’s four national parks: Mesa Verde, Rocky Mountain, the Great Sand Dunes and Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

The arts and culture scene in Denver, combined with the state’s breweries, wineries and distilleries, hot springs and cycling routes may be a delightful surprise to first-time Canadian visitors, Birdsall said.

Of course, many associate Colorado with skiing and snowboarding, which visitors can pursue at more than two dozen world-class resorts in the most mountainous, Instagram-worthy locations, such as Snowmass Village near Aspen.  

Liz Birdsall, market manager for the Americans, Asia and Australia at the Colorado Tourism Office.

Commit to winter

For those already active on the slopes in Ontario and/or Quebec, there’s a new company with Canadian ties that offers a direct link to Colorado’s ski resorts and beyond.

Denver-based conglomerate Alterra Mountain Company, which is just over a year old, oversees ski resorts in 14 destinations – two of which are in Canada (Blue Mountain in Ontario and Mont Tremblant in Quebec).

Their latest product, the Ikon Pass, is a season pass that grants access to all of Alterra’s 14 ski destinations, in addition to 24 others around the world.

A multi-destination lift ticket, all for one price.

“Let say you live in Toronto and you ski at Blue Mountain every weekend. [With the Ikon pass], you could jump on a plane and access five more [ski] destinations in Colorado,” Kristin Rust, director of public relations at Alterra Mountain Company told PAX

Rust noted that the best time to buy the Ikon pass is in spring, from March to May, when it's on sale.  Come late summer and fall, the price goes up.

“If you’re going to ski more than four days, the season pass is way to go,” Rust said. “It’s about committing to winter.”Annika Klint, director Canada for the Colorado Tourism Office.

Colorado by the numbers:

  • 8 national monuments
  • 58 mountains over 4,000 metres
  • 8 historic trains
  • 30 hot springs
  • 30 dude and guest ranches
  • 950 wildlife species
  • 28 ski areas
  • 330 breweries, 140 wineries, more than 90 distilleries

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