Steamboat Ski Area skier visits down 3 percent

Resort slips below 1 million mark for first time since the winter of 1988-89 despite high pass sales

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A dearth of memorable powder days and locals' resulting indifference contributed to a 3 percent decline in skier visits at Steamboat Ski Area last winter, a resort official said.

American Skiing Co. officials reported this week that skier visits at Steamboat Ski Area were down 31,000 last season, dropping the resort below the 1 million mark for the first time in 16 years. Steamboat finished with 971,770 skier visits.

"It's certainly a disappointing number," Steamboat Marketing Vice President Andy Wirth said. "Skier visits are one measure of our business performance, but they're not the only measure."

More than 80 percent of the 31,000-skier-days drop can be attributed to purchasers of season passes and super-value passes who didn't use all the days they paid for, Wirth said.

That suggests that about 6,000 skier visits were lost from vacationing skiers and snowboarders.

The decline came in spite of the fact that pass sales were up in numbers sold and dollar volume, Wirth said.

Despite Steamboat's decrease in skier visits, ASC continues to look favorably toward Steamboat, Wirth said, and its stature within the company is based on a fiscal story that isn't told by raw skier visits.

Steamboat has flirted with a drop below 1 million skier visits during the past five years, hitting 1,001,003 skier visits in 2001-02, for example.

The last time Steamboat didn't exceed 1 million skier days was in the 1988-89 season, when it recorded 976,254 visits. The biggest season on record was 1997-98, when the total was 1,053,145, according to the ski area's Web site.

Steamboat's decline in visits runs against the current of national, state and company trends. Steamboat was the only one of ASC's seven resorts that didn't see an increase in skier visits.

Colorado Ski Country USA reported last week that total skier visits in the state were up 550,000 to 11.81 million last winter. In May, the National Ski Areas Association predicted final tallies would establish the winter of 2004-05 as the fourth best winter for the nation's ski resorts, with 56.4 million visits.

ASC's resorts were up 2.6 percent to 3.98 million skier visits. Killington ranked first with 985,962 skier visits. Despite its drop, Steamboat firmly is in second place. It was a long way down to Sunday River in Maine, which ranked third among ASC resorts with 524,861 skier visits.

As Steam boat's sales of season passes and value passes have grown relative to total sales, the demographics of those customers has changed steadily, Wirth said. Influenced by sales to second-home owners, ski area tracking shows their relative affluence and older age bracket make them more inclined to find other things to do when powder is scarce.

Wirth and his colleagues take those factors into consideration when they make their revenue projections.

What really drives the ski area's fiscal performance, Wirth said, is the customer group described as "paid skier visits," or everyone except season-pass and value-card purchasers.

Wirth said he couldn't discuss the details but that the ski area performed well when measurements other than raw skier visits are taken into account.

Steamboat saw a notable drop in visitors from California last winter, historically its No. 5 market, Wirth said. That can be attributed to the "once-in-100-years snowstorms" that pounded the Sierras, he said. With so much snow in their own back yards, many California skiers decided to stay home last winter.

Steamboat didn't have the same snow that California and southern Colorado resorts enjoyed. Snowmaking and grooming crews did a lot with the snow available, but last winter ranked 18th among the past 25 years.

Given the below-average snowfall, Wirth said he was encouraged that Steamboat was able to hang on to the gains in the Front Range market share it posted during the past two winters.

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