Steamboat prepares for influx of tourists


— The population of Steamboat Springs will more than double during the holidays, as 11,700 people fly into Yampa Valley Regional Airport and thousands more come over Rabbit Ears Pass in their automobiles.

People working in the trenches of Steamboat's resort industry are mobilizing in earnest this week as the bulk of the vacationers arrive after Christmas.

For Jeff Little, owner of the Ore House at the Pine Grove, the coming invasion adds up to cinnamon rolls, and lots of them. The Ore House serves steaks, prime rib and seafood. But the cinnamon rolls that arrive at every table are one of the restaurant's signatures.

"I already know that between Dec. 24 and 31, we'll serve more than 4,000 cinnamon rolls," Little said.

Andy Wirth, vice president of marketing for Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., said arrivals at the airport would peak Monday and Tuesday with arriving airline passengers expected to top 1,700 and 1,800 on those respective days. Wirth said he expected that 11,700 passengers will have arrived between Dec. 22 and Friday.

About 62 percent of Steam--boat's winter guests come through the airport.

"In terms of airline reservations, this will be one of the busiest, if not the busiest week we've seen at the resort," Wirth said.

The informal tourism poll published by the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association anticipated that 14,600 visitors would spend the night in area hotels and condos Dec. 28. The Chamber's Diana Eilers said that figure represents the busiest Christmas week the "lodging barometer" has reported in five years.

"Last Christmas, we experienced record revenue and paid skier-day records for three days during Christmas week," Wirth said. "Based on how we're setting the mountain up operationally (this year), we're setting ourselves up for success when compared to those numbers," Wirth said.

Bobby O'Toole, director of operations for Alpine Taxi, and his colleagues are faced with a challenge. Their fleet of taxis will provide ground transportation to the majority of airline passengers arriving this week as they continue their journey 25 miles east to their vacation lodging.

"We've been planning for this day all summer," O'Toole said. "As soon as it starts snowing, we know Dec. 26 is gong to be busy. We'll have 80 vehicles, all on the road doing something."

On Tuesday and Wednesday, O'Toole said, Alpine will send vans with ski racks to the airport in waves of 15 to 17 at a time. The waves are timed to meet the condensed banks of jet flights arriving from cities including Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta and Newark, N.J. In addition to the vans that bring multiple families, there will be private taxis and limousines.

On a typical busy day in ski season, Alpine will have 35 drivers working a shift. This week, there will be 50 working the airport route. The usual seven to eight night drivers working restaurants and nightspots will be boosted to 10. On Thursday, when Hootie and the Blowfish play a free concert during the Olympic sendoff at the rodeo arena, 20 drivers will be tasked to deliver people to and from the celebration.

At Steamboat's property management companies, the week after Christmas isn't a holiday in the traditional sense of the word. Jim Spillane of Mountain Resorts said his company's more than 150 employees understand that working during the holiday is part of the business.

"Our mantra here is, 'All hands on deck,'" Spillane said. "Our employees will receive extra pay on Christmas, we'll bring them dinners and heap praise on them. But our attitude is, 'This is the nature of the industry you chose to work in.'"

Spillane said the vacation rentals that Mountain Resort manages are essentially full.

"If you're looking for a day or two, we have gaps between reservations where we can make it work," he said. "But if somebody called today looking for a five-day or seven-day reservation, they'd probably be out of luck."

Bob Dapper of Christy Sports said the 4,000 sets of rental skis and snowboards his group of stores stocks here are more than adequate to meet the demand this week. For Dapper's staff, the critical factor is the rate at which rental customers arrive and depart.

"We'll hope for a good spread out arrival (rate) so we can serve people in five to 10 minutes," Dapper said.

Dapper added that only 10 percent to 15 percent of vacationing skiers and riders rent their equipment.

A less traditional, but no less telling method of gauging tourism levels, is measuring intake at the city of Steamboat Springs' wastewater treatment plant. Public works director Jim Weber said the baseline flow for the community ranges between 2 million and 3 million gallons a day in October. He said he expected flow at the wastewater plant could exceed 6 million gallons a day this week. However, some of that must be attributed to melting snow and groundwater infiltrating the sewer system. That is well within the plant's capacity.

Wirth said he began weeks ago alerting people in the hospitality industry to the magnitude of the holiday season. He is urging business owners to do their utmost to ensure the holiday guests have a positive experience. Ski Corp. is working to ease the mid-morning crush at the ski gondola by opening some lifts a half hour early. Ski area managers are suggesting guests take care of details such as picking up lift tickets upon arrival so they are ready to ski the next morning. Wirth has maintained frequent contact with grocery store managers to raise awareness of the days when their dairy cases, for example, could be emptied by vacationers stocking their condo refrigerators.

O'Toole said his company understands Wirth's customer service message.

"We're almost like ambassadors for the resort," O'Toole said. "Our drivers are longtime locals who know the area, and they keep up with the bands playing at bars and restaurant specials. We're the first people (guests) meet and the last ones they talk to. Our drivers all tell them:

"Thank you for coming to Steamboat. We know you have a lot of choices in ski areas. We appreciate your decision to come to Steamboat and bring your family. Come back and see us."


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