Local lodging properties won't be nearly as busy tonight as they were at this time a year ago.
But there are signs that the three-day weekend for Martin Luther King Day, Jan. 19-21, will meet or exceed last year's levels.
"It's a day-to-day guessing game," Mike Lomas said Friday. "One day we crank reservations, and the next they drop off. We're doing better than I ever thought we would this winter."
Lomas is the proprietor of both the Ptarmigan Inn at the base of the ski area, and the Alpiner motel in downtown Steamboat.
Mountain hotels like the Ptarmigan were expected to average 70 percent occupancy Saturday night compared to 87 percent on the corresponding Saturday in 2001. Those figures are part of the projections in the lodging barometer compiled by the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association. The incomplete survey is not meant to be scientific.
Resort wide, Steamboat lodging properties are expected to be 59 percent full compared to 78 percent a year ago. That translates into 8,711 people spending the night here tonight compared to 11,423 last year on Jan. 13.
The early forecast for Saturday, Jan. 19, is already ahead of this Saturday; the barometer projects that 9,981 people will be in town. The number on the Saturday of MLK weekend last year was 10,837. That projection still has time to grow, and Lomas said the trend is toward last-minute reservations.
"People on the Front Range are checking the weather report and if they have a Steamboat card, they decide to zip up here," Lomas said. "If they're from out of state, they're checking (snow conditions) on the Internet."
The Ptarmigan, with ski-in, ski-out access and 77 rooms, expects to be 83-percent full Friday night, Jan. 18, and is already 93-percent booked Jan. 19.
"Martin Luther King weekends have become very good for us," Lomas said.
He is reluctant to make predictions about February and March, but Lomas said there's encouraging news about the first weekend in February.
"The first weekend in February is sold out and the eighth, ninth and 10th look strong," Lomas said. He's waiting to see how many tour operators, who have spoken for blocks of rooms, will sell through, or return the rooms they've held to the hotel.
The Ptarmigan was up 2 percent in December 2001 over December 2000, Lomas said. The Alpiner was also up in December, but he attributes that fact to the Nordic combined World Cup skiers who stayed at the downtown property in order to be close to Howelsen Hill. The world cup was hosted in January last winter.
This week marks the eighth week of the 20-week ski season.
Steamboat will host the 13th annual Weather Summit beginning Jan. 20, with television meteorologists from all over the nation visiting for a week of seminars.
The 28th Annual Cowboy downhill will take place on Headwall Jan. 22.
Steamboat will host an Olympic send-off Feb. 1, with fireworks and live music to celebrate the 15 to 20 athletes with Steamboat ties who may qualify for the Winter Olympics, which begin Feb. 8.