Steamboat hosts 14,000 guests

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— Steamboat Springs' prep cooks were up bright and early this morning to prepare for one of the busiest tourism days in the past decade.

Resort officials predict that 14,200 visitors will spend tonight in area lodging properties. It's the third time since 1995 that overnight visitation was expected to top 14,000. Restaurants and other tourism-dependent businesses are preparing for a wave of hungry skiers.

"It starts at 8 a.m. when you begin cutting a lot of extra lettuce," said Don Silva, owner of the Old West Steak House. "Your prep cooks have to make sure you don't run out of anything. To be out of any product starts a domino effect. You want to make sure you don't put your waiters in a compromising position."

Riley Polumbus of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association said the 14,200 visitors translate to a 94 percent occupancy rate. The Chamber's lodging barometer projects that motels and hotels along U.S. Highway 40 will be 99 percent full and that walk-ins will fill them. The Chamber's lodging barometer is a sampling of key properties and property management companies that guides tourism businesses in preparation for resort weekends, Polumbus said.

After poring through a decade's worth of reports, Polumbus concluded that only Dec. 28, 2005, (14,600) and Dec. 31, 2003, (14,400) may have been busier than tonight.

Silva pointed out that 14,000 tourists visiting Steamboat equates to roughly a 150 percent increase in the local population.

His restaurant usually prepares itself for big nights such as tonight. Silva calls in backup bussers and doubles the dishwashing staff so the servers' aisle never runs out of flatware.

"A real key is staging your reservations to arrive every 15 minutes," Silva said. "Otherwise, your bartender gets slammed, your (cook) line gets slammed and your appetizers guy gets slammed."

Even when reservations are carefully staged, dining parties tend to leave all at once.

"We seat 220 people, and there will be a flurry when four tables get up at once," Silva said. "When a 15-top and two eight-tops get up at once, that's when a manager jumps in and helps bus a table. You have to be ready to provide moral support."

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