A new Sunshine lift?

Ski Corp. executive hints at replacement this summer

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— A Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. executive hinted Thursday that a new high-speed chairlift is in Steamboat Ski Area's future.

"We're very excited about what's happening on the mountain this summer," Marketing Vice President Andy Wirth said. "We won't release our capital budget for several weeks, but I can say that we'll all be preparing to get more sunshine in our lives next winter. It's also safe to say that Rendezvous (Saddle) and Thunderhead (buildings) could use some work."

Wirth was speaking about ski area marketing at a roundtable discussion during Economic Sum--mit 2006 at the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel. He declined to clarify his remark after the meeting.

However, it's no secret that replacing Sunshine Chairlift is among the priorities on Ski Corp.'s master plan.

The current Sunshine Chair--lift is a triple chair that climbs to the 10,384-foot summit of Sunshine Peak. It serves a collection of popular intermediate trails but is notoriously slow compared with the more modern detachable quad chairlifts such as Sundown.

Wirth also indicated the ski area logged an increase in skier visits last season. Wirth, who just returned from the annual convention of the National Ski Areas Association in Marcos Island, Fla., said national skier visits set a record of 58.8 million visits, up 3.3 percent from the previous season and up 2 percent from the previous record set in the winter of 2002-03.

The Rocky Mountain region posted a 5.8 percent gain in skier visits during the winter of 2005-06, but Wirth said Steamboat did better.

"We significantly out-performed the nation and the region" on a percentage basis, Wirth said.

Individual Colorado ski areas won't release their final figures for 2005-06 skier visits until the annual convention of Colorado Ski Country USA in Steamboat from June 14 to 16.

Wirth said raw skier visitation numbers aren't the best measure of Steamboat's resort performance. The real picture emerges when skier visits attributable to season passes and value cards are extracted from the total, he said. The ski area refers to non-season-pass business as "paid skier visits." "Total skier days are a measure, but not the measure," Wirth said. "Paid skier visits are what drive our business."

Wirth said the advent of daily flights from Atlanta to Yampa Valley Regional Airport on Delta Airlines next winter should yield more of the destination vacationers who contribute to paid skier visits.

"We're going deep into the Southeast this winter," Wirth said. "There is good hunting down there for the kind of vacationers who spend six nights and seven days (on vacation) and spend more money while they are here."

Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association Marketing Director Lynna Broyles told the Economic Summit audience that surveys by AAA Colorado and travel consultant Peter Yesawich indicate the travel plans of Americans will not be affected by the high cost of fuel this summer. However, she said the Fourth of July holiday followed by Rainbow Weekend represent soft spots in Steamboat's summer tourism picture this year.

Other summer weekends are 50 to 60 percent booked at many lodging properties. She said more lodging properties have been able to book room nights at their full retail rates for this summer.

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