Tourism in town soft this weekend

Locals can hit the less-crowded slopes

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— This weekend could be a good one for local skiers to enjoy the wide-open slopes of Mount Werner. Tourism is forecast to be light on Saturday before building back to robust levels for the Martin Luther King holiday weekend Jan. 18-20.

The lodging barometer published by the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association predicts the number of people staying at local lodges Saturday night will be 6,442 -- 1,557 fewer than the corresponding Saturday in 2002. However, the level of tourism will drop only a little by midweek, putting Steamboat ahead of the same date last winter. For the following Saturday, Jan. 19, the chamber is already forecasting 11,402 visitors, on a par with last year.

With an increasing trend to close-in bookings, Bob Milne of Steamboat Resorts predicts MLK weekend will be stronger than the current lodging barometer projects.

"Yesterday was the second busiest day for reservations we've ever had," Milne said.

On Thursday, the 10 phone reservationists at Steamboat Resort were taking bookings primarily for January and February, he said.

He acknowledged the next five days will be soft, as college ski week visitors check out and head back to class.

"We're off about 5 percent this weekend," Milne said. "We'll dip again after the holiday, but we finish strong."

Current bookings for February are off about 5 percent and the pace for March is off about 4 percent, Milne said.

However, he isn't alarmed about March because March 2002 was one of the strongest in his company's history, he said. Being off that pace by a few points isn't necessarily a bad thing, in Milne's view.

The much-discussed trend toward close-in booking on ski vacations has almost become a mantra for property managers. Milne said the trend is real, and there is still time for reservations to grow stronger over the balance of the winter. As evidence, he points to the unusual story of a family that arrived at Yampa Valley Regional Airport during the week after Christmas without room reservations.

"They had checked online and knew there was some room at several properties, and they decided just to fly out and see what happened," Milne said. "We just happened to have a two-bedroom at the Dulany that worked out."

Milne's business is more competitive than it was just two years ago. In 2000-01, Steamboat had 17,635 "pillows" in its bed base. By the following year, that number had grown to 18,917. It stands at 19,150 this winter.

That means if Steamboat attracts the same number of visitors year over year, lodging properties will be looking at lower occupancy rates.

The lodging barometer, which is an informal survey rather than a scientific poll, projects Steamboat's lodging properties will be 42 percent occupied Saturday night.

Mountain hotels will be just 38 percent full. But the hotels at the base of the ski area are projected to be 51 percent full on Wednesday and 87 percent full on Jan. 18.

The early peek at next Saturday shows Steamboat's lodging properties in aggregate will be 74 percent full.

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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