Winter Attraction Generates Thousands of Visitors; Exceeds Summertime Traffic
For the last several years as traffic to Cripple Creek has declined, coupled with a huge plunge in gaming revenue, local officials have desperately searched for ways to turn the city into a tourist destination hotspot.
In fact, the term “destination area” has been thrown out since the beginning of legal gambling in 1991.
Finally, the town may have hit the jackpot, with the dream of the gambling town becoming a tourism mecca, and wintertime turning into a real winner, gaining glimpses of reality.
Cripple Creek officials initially had high hopes for this winter season with the addition of a new giant $300 million, resort-level casino and hotel, and the arrival of the popular Ice Castles attraction, located just off the main street. And with the Ice Castles opening earlier than planned and the Chamonix project reaching its goal of opening before the New Year, the city appears to have hit its target.
Moreover, these trends can help boost the city’s bottom line, as Cripple Creek got financially pounded during the COVID-19 epidemic when the casinos were shut down for three months. It lost $2.2 million in gaming device revenue, an amount that the city has never recovered, as casinos adapted to operating with fewer games.
The success of the attraction, and the new casino addition, is evident by a huge surge in traffic on Hwy. 67 between Divide and Cripple Creek, along with roads within the city. Some local operators have compared the traffic volumes to what the city experiences during their busy season in the summer months.
In fact, these estimates may be on the conservative side. According to Cripple Creek Special Projects Director Jeff Mosher, the city has experienced more traffic in the last few weeks since the Ice Castle attraction has opened than it typically does during the summer season. But the exact numbers aren’t quite known. Mosher said that the attraction company does not provide numbers due to it being proprietary information.
However, Mosher said that they do know the Ice Castles attraction sold out multiple days during the holidays. And according to special projects director, these numbers are significant, as the attraction sells between 180 to 200 tickets every half hour.
“Basically, the traffic has surpassed what we anticipated,” Mosher said. “They opened three weeks early which was great. They were hoping to get open before Christmas but they originally didn’t open their ticket sales until January 13.”
The attraction originally sold around 40,000 tickets when the opening dates ran from January 13 to late February. But since it opened early, the number of tickets sold will be higher than that, Mosher said.
On the downside, Mosher did say that the town is experiencing the same problems it usually has when it comes to large-scale special events. He explained that some Ice Castles patrons have had trouble getting into the casino restaurants with kids, and local eateries have experienced unusually long wait times.
Mosher said that the city is working with food truck groups to bring more options for food to the city soon to accommodate the recent increase in traffic. “The restaurants that are here are having such long waits that they are shutting down their waiting lists three or four hours before they close because they are full,” Mosher said. “It’s a great problem for us to have, but it’s not a great experience for the visitor necessarily.
Company Employees Happy With Cripple Creek Castles Site
Mosher said that representatives from the attraction company were initially concerned that the number of tickets they could sell would be smaller than their previous Colorado location, which was located near major ski resorts. But, he said that the company has been pleased with how many people have gone to the Ice Castles site in Cripple Creek, since some of the attraction’s other locations are not yet open.
“These past two weeks have been busier than we expected to be even with having extended hours for winter break,” Colorado Ice Castles Event Manager Kail Hanrahan said. “We have had more people in town then anyone first thought.”
She said that on average, people stay at the attraction for an hour to an hour and a half. The site features special highlights to check out, including multiple ice sculptures that are set up throughout the attraction, including one dedicated to the Cripple Creek Donkeys.
The attraction features a number of slides that both adults and children can go on, and even one in which two riders can race each other. There are interactive sculptures, enabling visitors to pose for pictures, and tunnels for patrons to crawl inside.
Hanrahan said that the attraction basically offers two different experiences for the day and night visitors, and that it’s hard to tell which one is better.
When asked if the attraction is more popular in the day or at night, the event manager replied, “It really depends, there is a certain magic to it during the day because you get to really see the blue hue in the ice that you don’t get to see at night. But at night you get to see the lights.”
She said that the attraction has been frequented from visitors from all over the state. She stated that visitors from the Colorado Springs area have been the most popular, but many people have also made the trip to Cripple Creek from the Denver metro area.
Now that the winter break is over for schools in the area, the Ice Castles are open Wednesday and Thursday 3 to 9:30 p.m., Friday 2 to 11:30 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.; and Sunday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. The attraction is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays except during holidays.
The attraction offers a special deal for southern Teller County locals on Wednesdays during which Cripple Creek and Victor residents can bring a total of five people to the Castles for $5 per person with proof of residency. Tickets for the attraction can be purchased at the gate when they are not sold out, or ahead of time online at icecastles.com/colorado/.
Information is also available on the city of Cripple Creek’s tourism website, which offers a link to the attraction.