It's no April Fools

Lodging barometer shows ski vacationers remaining en masse

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Checkout time has been moved back for Steamboat Springs' winter tourism season. The resort will be far busier than it has for the past several years, at least through April 1.

The lodging barometer published by the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association anticipates 13,900 visitors will spend the night in area lodges Saturday. And many of those guests are planning to stick around. On the last Saturday in March 2005, the Chamber was preparing to welcome 1,300 fewer vacationing skiers and snowboarders than it is this year.

"The lodging barometer is just a forecast, but it's significant that we do it the same way every year," Chamber spokeswoman Riley Polumbus said. "When you look at the graph, you can see the difference between this winter and the last couple of winters."

The barometer graph shows that by the 18th week of the ski season in 2004 and 2005, tourism already had started to drop off. This year, the graph still points upward.

"It's very unusual, very unusual," said Keith Skytta of Snowflower Condominiums. "We'll still be strong through April 2. But on April 3, they all go home."

The barometer bears Skytta out on the front end, but Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. executive Andy Wirth said it's premature to give up on the last weekend of the ski season.

"We've put the pedal down on the weekend of April 9, and we're seeing response in the marketplace," Wirth said.

The lodging barometer projects that 11,800 visitors will be in town Wednesday -- up from 9,800 on last year's corresponding Wednesday. Wirth said a big piece of this weekend's business is attributable to the 2,500 to 3,000 people in town for the NASTAR National Ski Racing Championships.

Perhaps most eye-catching of all is that the barometer already projects 10,900 vacationers April 1. That's 4,200 more visitors than on the first Saturday in April 2005.

Skytta said part of the reason for the strong late ski season is aggressive discounting.

"Twenty to 30 percent off (lodging) is pretty commonplace throughout the industry," Skytta said. "We've been offering 30 percent, even for two nights, it doesn't matter."

Wirth said the work done by lodging companies is significant in driving late ski season business.

"It's a very competitive environment," he said. "We're seeing some substantial discounting by Rock Resorts (Vail Resorts' lodging division) and Telluride," he said.

Polumbus said a season-to-date snowfall total exceeding 400 inches had much to do with the robust late-March tourism.

"When you think about when they booked these vacations, it was dumping," Polumbus said. "It kind of goes along with the snow year, and we're getting national attention. I was interviewed by a writer for the L.A. Times this week."

In fact, business this weekend is so strong that Polumbus could not find suitable accommodations for a national writer who wanted to visit Steamboat to write an article.

"There were just OK rooms here and there," Polumbus said, but the property management companies didn't want to put a journalist in one of those accommodations.

The barometer forecasts that Steamboat's hotels, motels and resort condominiums will be 92 percent full Saturday night.

Skytta said he had a pretty good sense this ski season would be a good one, even before the snow began to fall.

In August 2005, he said his property was participating in a Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. promotion that offered 25 percent off lodging and lift tickets for people who booked their vacations early.

"By September and October, we had booked twice the business" than Snowflower had booked the previous year, Skytta said.

"December was strong, but it's always strong for us," he said. "What amazed me was that January, February and March -- we were up all four months, and by a good chunk -- 15, 16, 17 percent."

Wirth said three key factors contributed to the successful winter.

"As a destination resort, a healthy national economy, airline seats and good snowfall, in cascading order of importance, are what drive our business," Wirth said. "All three worked together very well this season."

Skiers and riders always will remember the winter of 2005-06 as a season of 400-plus inches of snow. Resort lodging companies also will remember it as a season of plenty.

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