Skier days fall short

Strong 2000-2001 season dwindles

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— The Steamboat Ski Area counted 1,003,317 skier days last season, down 21,515 from the previous year.

The numbers represent about a 2.1 percent drop in the number of people who skied Steamboat last winter.

The final tally for Steamboat was released in the third quarter earnings report of American Skiing Company, which announced May 30 it plans to sell its assets in Steamboat, including the ski area.

Steamboat Ski Area President Chris Diamond told an audience of business leaders on June 7 that the bottom dropped out of last ski season's business in early January.

"It was a very, very strange year in many ways," Diamond said during a speech at Economic Summit 2001. "Maybe the strangest I've seen in 30 years. During the Christmas holidays, all indicators were pointing to a gangbuster year. Advanced reservations ranged 10 percent ahead of last year."

Diamond said he knew something was wrong on a Tuesday in January when phone volume at Steamboat Central Reservations was off 39 percent. That precipitous drop made him think the phone system wasn't working properly.

The reality was that "there was no pressure in the pipeline," Diamond said. He attributed the fall off in demand to bad economic news from coast to coast.

"That was the main factor in our spring demise," Diamond said.

Steamboat Vice President of Marketing Andy Wirth said the ski area focuses intently on the portion of its overall skier days it calls "paid skier days." The term is somewhat misleading it refers to all ski pass sales from one-half to 14 days, and excludes season passes (any pass good for 20 days or more).

In terms of paid skier days, March was one of the most disappointing the ski area has ever seen, Wirth said. On the other hand, season pass sales were up 15 percent, and high use of season passes and value cards in December and January helped the ski area break one million skier days for the 12th consecutive season.

Nearby, Vail reported record skier visits at its four resorts in total this year. But Diamond attributed much of that to his rivals' ability to lock in 150,000 of the 300,000 active skiers on the Front Range through deeply discounted "buddy passes."

Steamboat's additional distance from Denver, and the lack of another nearby ski area under the same ownership make it impossible for it to compete with Vail on those terms, Diamond said.

Although Steamboat's numbers were down last winter, all six of American Skiing's New England resorts saw increases in skier visits. Killington, Vt., was up 14.5 percent from 933,760 skier days in 1999-2000 to 1,069,478 last winter.

Wirth said strong skier visitation in New England is good for Steamboat in the long run, because it creates enthusiastic skiers who are likely to want to travel to Colorado in the future. However, in the short run, the combination of good snow in New England last winter, together with bad economic news, could have turned many potential destination vacationers who didn't range far from home.

American Skiing reported total revenues of $179.6 million for the third fiscal quarter ending April 29, down from $223.1 million for the same period a year ago. However, resort revenues for the quarter were actually up, and the decline was attributed to real estate revenues.

American Skiing is in the midst of restructuring the company to de-leverage some of its debt, and the sale of Steamboat is part of that effort.

Diamond told his Economic Summit audience that he interprets that step to mean the company views the Steamboat Ski Area and other holdings here as valuable assets that hold the potential to unload corporate debt.

ASC's resort revenue during the third quarter was $164.2 million, compared to $149.9 million in the third quarter of fiscal 2000. Company officials said they anticipated a drop in real estate earnings from 2000 when the Sundial Lodge and Grand Summit Hotel at The Canyons Resort in Park City, Utah, first came on line. Real estate revenues were $15.4 million last quarter compared to $73.2 million a year earlier.

American Skiing company officials are scheduled to conduct a conference call with investment analysts and the press on Friday.

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