Vacationers arrive for carnival

Steamboat resorts benefit from increased travel

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— Steamboat Springs' resort lodging properties will be more than 85 percent full for Winter Carnival this weekend, when 13,300 visitors are expected to arrive. After a projected mid-week slump Wednesday, mountain condominiums will be more than 90 percent full for Presidents Day weekend, from Feb. 18 to 20.

Demand for Steamboat vacations was reflected at the busy Yampa Valley Regional Airport on Wednesday, when arriving flights mostly were full. Airport officials were anticipating the arrival of 1,090 passengers and 616 boarding flights to go home.

This is the time in the ski season when property managers evaluate January and look ahead to the critical phase -- from Presidents Day through the end of March.

Barbara Robinson, at the Steamboat Holiday Inn, said her hotel business was up 3 percent in January over the same period last year. January 2005 was also a month of strong growth, she said.

Bob Milne, president of Steamboat Resorts, said occupancy rates at the condominiums his company manages were up 5.6 percent last month.

Robinson said that for the first time in 20 years, she is seeing a slight reversal of a trend that has dominated the ski resort industry. People are beginning to book vacations a little further in advance, and she already is taking some reservations for summer.

Milne thinks the "bounce" that has helped his business in the start of February stems from word-of-mouth recommendations supplied by January vacationers. Visitors who skied some of the best powder days in recent memory last month apparently are spreading the word.

"February is solid," Milne said. "Our phone volume is just steady -- there aren't peaks and valleys, and we're filling in little holes."

Milne said early returns for March are inconclusive, in part because Easter falls on April 16 this year. Easter was on March 27 last year, which helped Steamboat have the best March for tourism in five years. The late Easter this year makes cross comparisons difficult.

"March is a little strange, so far," Milne said. "We're solid, but it's pacing behind" with the later Easter.

Steamboat Resorts books airfare for its guests, and Milne said that in spite of the high demand for Steamboat vacations, his company is able to get good airfares for its clientele.

"If you don't come spring skiing this year, when will you?" Milne asked. "I'm optimistic. If you aren't, with the snowfall and the weather we've had, you shouldn't be in this business."

-- To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com.

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