Diamond offers reasons for optimism | SteamboatToday.com
Blythe Terrell

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Diamond offers reasons for optimism

Ski Corp. president says most market indicators are positive

— Chris Diamond kicked off Thursday morning’s Business Outlook Breakfast with a dose of optimism about the approaching ski season.

“As distressing as some of the news is, it’s hard to find a metric this time of year that isn’t positive compared to last year,” the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. president told a crowd at Rex’s American Grill & Bar.

Some ski season flights are 60 percent to 80 percent cheaper than this time last year, Diamond said. Gas is more than a dollar a gallon cheaper, and consumer confidence is increasing from its all-time low in February.

“We’re not headed back for boom times,” Diamond said. “If you look back two years ago, I don’t see any way we can get back to where we were in ’07- ’08. : (but) It’s going the right direction.”

Diamond spoke as part of a panel of business leaders at the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association event. Other speakers were Bob Milne, president of Steamboat Resorts; Dean Vogelaar, president of the Steamboat Springs branch of Mountain Valley Bank; Ulrich Salzgeber, incoming president of the Steamboat Springs Board of Realtors; and John Shively, president of Shively Construction.

The numbers back up Diamond’s hopeful statements. Consumer confidence was up to 54.1 in August from 25 in February, according to the Conference Board, which started measuring the index in 1967.

The average price for a gallon of unleaded gas was $3.68 on Sept. 21, 2008, according to local prices published in the Steamboat Today each Monday. The national average was $3.75, and local prices ranged from $3.93 to $3.99 a gallon.

On Sunday, the average price in the state was $2.45 a gallon, and the national average was $2.55 a gallon. Steamboat’s prices ranged from $2.39 to $2.60.

“The last year, basically, the sky was falling and the floor was shaking,” Diamond said.

There was “extreme volatility in the markets, and it was very hard to get a fix on what was going to happen to our business other than it was going to be awful.”

Ski Corp.’s key measurements are airplane seat bookings and Steamboat Central Reservations, he said.

About 20 percent of the ski season will be on the books by the end of September. The air program has been cut by about 14 percent through planning and the exit of Frontier Airlines.

At this point, Diamond said, plane bookings have increased by 7 percent compared with 2008. But, he noted that the 2008 figure was down 33 percent compared with 2007.

However, the tourism economy in Steamboat Springs isn’t out of the woods. Inflation is a concern, as is a decrease in average daily rates for lodging. Milne said Steamboat Resorts had offered steep discounts and was trying to increase its visibility to combat the economic downturn.

“In summary, I think we’ll see more guests this year,” Diamond said. “We’ll probably see them (booking) a slightly shorter stay, we’ll see hands in pockets, real pressure continuing on high-end retail.”

But if the upswing continues, Diamond said, things could turn around in March.

Times still are challenging the real-estate and building arenas, Salzgeber and Shively said.

In August, 72 properties sold for a combined $33 million, Salzgeber said. That was the second highest-dollar month this year after July.

But that dollar figure is 56 percent of what it was in August 2008, he said. Volume in August 2007 was $152 million.

He said Realtors expect a turnaround in the second half of 2010.

Shively said the construction industry was still seeing few new home starts.

His business did about 75 percent remodels and 25 percent new homes when he started it in 1983.

Those percentages flip-flopped during the housing boom in Steamboat and appear to be adjusting again, he said.

“We see people who want to build that have the money not going forward because of the uncertainty in the marketplace,” Shively said.

The Chamber is planning its next Business Outlook Breakfast for early December.