Lodging properties expected to be close to full

13,000 visitors forecast to be in Steamboat around Martin Luther King holiday

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— The resort will host 13,000 visitors this weekend, but there is still room at the inn.

Steamboat's bed base of 19,150 pillows is forecast to be 84 percent full Saturday night. Mountain hotels will be the busiest of all, with a 94 percent occupancy rate.

Mike Lomas of the Ptarmigan Inn said his property is completely booked Friday night and all but six of his 77 hotel rooms are spoken for Saturday night.

"We had plenty of rooms up until two days ago and then boom, it hit," Lomas said.

Lomas suspects he would have no room at all if it weren't for the fact that his hotel hosted two ski groups this week that are not scheduled to check out until Saturday. That fact deterred some Martin Luther King weekend skiers who wanted to check in Friday night.

Lomas said December 2002 was bigger at his lodging property than either December 2001 or 2000. However, January 2003 is only on par with last year.

Greg Koehler, owner of the landmark Rabbit Ears Motel in downtown Steamboat Springs, said his property's ski season is finally starting to gather steam.

"It's starting to be better," Koehler said. "It's not going to be a record for me by any means. It looks like it's going to be more like 1999. February looks real good for me, and March right now is mediocre."

Koehler said he didn't think the trend toward late bookings could grow any more prevalent, but it has.

"People are booking even closer in than ever, if that's possible," he said.

The other trend Koehler said he can't escape involves savvy consumers insisting on discounted rates. The Rabbit Ears is constantly upgrading its 66 motel rooms, he said, and he would like to get between $95 and $115 a night during ski season. However, guests are talking him down to the range of $72 to $89.

Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. officials reported increased market share from the Front Range last ski season and continue to promote discount packages this year. Still, Koehler believes heavily discounted season passes at I-70 corridor resorts like Copper Mountain have put a dent in his occupancy rates.

"The buddy passes have greatly impacted us," Koehler said. "We used to get a lot of business from the northern Front Range -- Fort Collins -- and from Wyoming. That's just not coming anymore."

Lomas said his property is less susceptible to discounting pressures because it offers true ski-in ski-out access on the south side of the Headwall trail at the base of the ski area. The remaining rooms in the Ptarmigan Inn are going for $179 a night.

Ski area marketing vice president Andy Wirth said Thursday the pace of demand for nonstop jet flights into the Yampa Valley is generally good for the balance of the winter. However, he's particularly concerned about underbooked midweek flights from Dallas on American Airlines.

The ski area sent out 150,000 direct mail pieces this week to address midweek softness in Dallas and other markets, Wirth said.

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