Steamboat just misses skier record

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The best snow in Colorado wasn't enough to push the Steamboat Ski Area's skier numbers past last Thanksgiving's record numbers, according to company officials.

A spokesman for American Skiing Co. said Wednesday that Steamboat had a near-record Thanksgiving this year but fell just short of last year's four-day total. He declined to release exact totals.

Comparisons between the Thanksgiving holiday periods in 2002 and 2003 are complicated by the fact that Steamboat pushed up its opening five days from the traditional holiday opening last year to take advantage of unusually good snow conditions.

"Relative to any other year, Steamboat had an exceptional Thanksgiving," ASC spokesman Erik Preusse said. "Last year was unbelievable."

Steamboat opened Nov. 26 with 3,000 vertical feet of skiing and a 32-inch base at mid-mountain. The resort reported a base of 44 inches Wednesday.

Preusse discussed the performance of various company ski resorts in the context of the company's fiscal 2004 first quarter earnings report, which was released Wednesday. He said Steamboat was off "modestly" from last year's Thanksgiving numbers. However, citing Securities and Exchange Commission regulations, he would not give out specific numbers on skier visits.

Ski Corp. Vice President of Marketing Andy Wirth confirmed that last year's Thanksgiving visits represented a 40-year record, but also declined to give specifics. The ski area announced last month it had raised about $60,000 for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club on Scholarship Day, held Nov. 26. The proceeds from $15 lift tickets that day were turned over to the club. The numbers for that day translated into 4,000 skiers on the mountain.

The ski area set out to boost visitation for last weekend by visiting a downtown Denver shopping mall and handing out 15,000 vouchers good for a single-day lift ticket anytime between Dec. 1 and 7.

Wirth is reporting that early bookings of one-way airline seats into Yampa Valley Regional Airport are up more than 5,000 passengers over last year.

ASC is pointing to similar optimistic signs for the second fiscal quarter after absorbing greater losses from its resort operations in the first quarter than it did for the same period in fiscal 2003. The company's loss from resort operations was $35.9 million for the quarter that ended in October, compared with a loss of $24.9 million in the first quarter of fiscal 2003.

Preusse said that when costs associated with restructuring debt and payouts on preferred stock dividends are taken out of the quotient, last quarter's losses were $25.5 million.

The first fiscal quarter is not the strongest revenue period for ASC. The company's consolidated revenue was $18.5 million last quarter, compared with $20.6 million for the same period a year earlier. Preusse attributed the drop in revenues to the impact of the economy on conference business and poor weather in the East Coast that hurt golf and summer business.

Company officials were buoyed by a significant increase in season pass sales as of Nov. 30. Year-to-date season pass sales were up 27.4 percent.

"We are excited about our prospects for the 2003-04 season," CEO B.J. Fair said. "The realignment of our marketing and sales organization has driven a solid increase in season pass sales that foreshadows higher visitation. We have enjoyed abundant early season snowfall in the West, and conditions in the East have steadily improved, with excellent snowmaking temperatures and significant natural snowfall this past weekend. We remain cautiously optimistic given a number of positive indicators as we approach the heart of the season."

Preusse said the bulk of the growth in season pass sales can be attributed to the decision to sell single season passes good for skiing and snowboarding at each of two specific New England resorts. Season pass sales for Attitash, N.H., and Sunday River, Maine, were up 100 percent through Nov. 30 thanks to the combined season pass, he said.

Season pass sales for all five of ASC's Eastern resorts were up 38.6 percent. The growth in the West, at Steamboat and The Canyons, Utah, were 5.2 percent higher year to date.

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