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Durango’s Snowdown: Hangovers, what else?

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

The crowd at El Rancho Tavern takes in the Revenge of the Queens drag show during Snowdown 2013. There’s no question Snowdown brings a lot of people to downtown Durango, but its full economic impact is difficult to measure.

By Jordyn Dahl Herald staff writer

For five days every winter, people decked out in costumes swarm Durango and roam the streets, hoping to best others in competitions such as drink making or pingpong.

Snowdown undoubtably brings people downtown, but it’s close to impossible to measure the economic impact the winter festival has on the city because no one has put together an impact statement in its 35-year history.

“It fills the streets,” Bob Kunkel, downtown business development manager for the city, said of Snowdown’s signature attraction, the Friday-night parade. “They’re not really there to shop. They’re there to see the parade.”

He said, “They might drop in for a meal or coffee if they’re cold or a drink, but they’re probably not there to shop for consumer goods.”

The average retail store might not see a large increase in business during Snowdown, but the bars definitely do with alcohol flowing from the first event to kick off the festival, typically Fashion Do’s and Don’ts, to the final one Sunday night.

Colorado Pongas was at capacity by 9 p.m. for its stripper-pole contest, and people were lined up around the block to get in, said manager Jordon Nelson.

“As far as our whole weekend went, it was so packed you literally had to stand in line for an hour to an hour and a half,” he said. “Every weekend is usually pretty busy, but during the weekend of Snowdown our business doubles.”

Durango Lodge was at capacity during the weekend. It hosted a ski group from Phoenix, but it would have been full even if the group was not in town, said front-desk clerk Fran Conway.

Hotels and bars see a bump in business, but it comes at a high cost for festival organizers and the city.

Organizers had a budget of about $65,000 this year, with about $9,000 of that going toward insurance, $10,000 to printing the schedules and posters, and about $6,000 going to the city and police for the parade to help cover their costs, said Tim Cooney, treasurer for the Snowdown board of directors.

The city spent about $2,200 on overtime for its 20 hourly employees who worked during the Snowdown parade, said Tom Kramer, city facilities and fleet manager.

The Durango Police Department had 31 staff members working during the parade, which is the largest Durango hosts all year.

Snowdown organizers pay for 12 of the officers on a contractual basis at about $60 an hour, spokesman Ray Shupe said.

Seven of the officers worked at a regular pay rate, and 12 were paid overtime at a rate between $40 and $50 an hour, Shupe said.

“We always staff extra for Snowdown because it’s a busy weekend, but historically it’s been that way since Snowdown’s inception,” he said.

Overall, he said it was an “uneventful weekend, as far as Snowdown goes.”

As far as revenue, the festival’s timing, part in January and part in February, makes it difficult to nail down.

Sales and lodgers tax numbers for those months in 2010 and 2011 were up, but it cannot be attributed to one event, such as Snowdown, said Julie Brown, finance director for the city.

The numbers were down during the same time period in 2008 and 2009, but that is when the Great Recession hit Durango.

Sales- and lodgers-tax data for January isn’t released until Feb. 20, and February data is released a month later.

Snowdown treasurer Cooney said the organization plans to contact Fort Lewis College about conducting an economic study for a class project in response to the Herald’s inquiry asking into the festival’s effect.


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