Front Range visit numbers up

Ski area sees 20 percent increase

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— The Steamboat Ski Area saw an estimated 20 percent increase in visits from Front Range residents in the 2001-02 winter and had about the same number of total skier visit as it did last season.

Officials are holding off on sharing exact numbers until a third-quarter earnings report is released. However, Andy Wirth, vice president of marketing for the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., would say Steamboat had a "flat growth" of skier visits compared to last year's 1.003 million visits, and that is being interpreted as good news.

"Compared to other ski resorts, we did very well," Wirth said.

Colorado resorts on the whole had a 4 percent decrease in skier visits compared to last year, according to Colorado Ski Country. Vail was the busiest resort with 1.54 million visits. That's down from 1.65 million the previous season. Keystone saw a 12 percent decline; Breckenridge had a slight increase and was the second-busiest resort; and officials from Copper Mountain, which hasn't released any numbers, claim the resort had its best year ever.

Altogether, Colorado Ski Country estimates there were 11.15 million visits to Colorado ski areas this winter.

David Perry, president and CEO of Colorado Ski Country, said despite the statewide 4 percent decline in skier visits, he is extremely happy.

"I think it's remarkable," he said.

Preseason estimates showed skier visits could be off 30 percent in connection to a slumping economy and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. In December, skier visits were off 14 percent in the state but rallied after the first of the year.

"March came on like gang busters," Perry said.

Statewide, skier visits by Front Range residents fell slightly. However, the number of overnight visits from Front Range skiers at Colorado resorts increased 12.1 percent, to 839,000, according to Colorado Ski Country.

That's exactly the crowd Steamboat successfully found a market with in the 2001-02 season.

"Clearly, the Front Range skiers see us as a two- or three-night escape," Wirth said.

Ski Corp. initially learned that before the ski season after it contracted out a two-month study that randomly surveyed 1,200 Front Range residents.

"Some (local) people said that we never would get the Front Range back because of the buddy passes," said Wirth, referring to the inexpensive season pass deals that Interstate 70 resorts offer.

But the study concluded something different. Instead of Steamboat fighting tooth and nail with I-70 resorts on ticket pricing, Front Range residents were offered multiple-day deals on lodging, Wirth said.

An advertising campaign also was launched that presented the Steamboat Ski Area as a perfect getaway for Front Range residents, "conveniently located 75 miles away from any major interstate," the ads stated.

Compared to last season, Ski Corp. spent $100,000 to $150,000 more this winter to rope in Front Range skiers, a 15 percent to 20 percent increase in spending, Wirth said.

Officials say the result of all the work was a 20 percent increase in Front Range skiers visiting Steamboat Springs over the winter.

Wirth also said paid skier visits, which account for all non-season-pass skiers, also was modestly up.

What wasn't up were the season pass holder visits in this winter. Wirth said the number of times season passes were scanned on the mountain this year was down, even though more people held the passes this past winter than they did the in the previous season.

Bad snow conditions during the beginning and the end of the year is being considered a big reason for the decrease.

Wirth said he doesn't know when official numbers on skier visits will be released. He added it's important to keep a lid on that type of information until the right time because American Skiing Co., which owns the Steamboat Ski Area, is a publicly traded company.

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