'Soft spots' forecast for ski travel

Resort officials target slow times in January, February

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— Local vacation lodging properties are in such demand during the holidays, the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association's lodging barometer projected that mountain condominiums would be 102 percent full Saturday.

The resort is expecting its total lodging base to be 98 percent full, with 14,700 visitors in town - up 200 from last year.

Still, resort leaders had their sights focused on the future.

Andy Wirth, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. and chief marketing officer for Intrawest, said his office plans to launch a marketing initiative immediately after the start of the year. It is intended to address tourism "soft spots" in late January and early February.

"We're not doing a celebratory touchdown dance because it's early, and we still have to drive the length of the field," Wirth said. "We're not looking as strong as we have (in other years), and we're fighting for every reservation we can get."

Colorado resorts have an outstanding snow message to sell early this ski season. But it turns out that snow is not the end-all and be-all for bookings at ski resorts.

"I'd take average snow and a strong national economy over outstanding snow and a borderline, recessionary economy any year," Wirth said.

Wirth does double duty overseeing Intrawest's 10 ski resorts, but he is paying particular attention to Steamboat as the longtime vice president of marketing for Ski Corp. He has consistently said that the consumer confidence index has more influence on Steamboat destination resort business than snowfall.

"We're carefully tracking and concerned about consumer confidence," Wirth said.

The Conference Board reported Thursday that consumer confidence saw an unexpected bounce from 87.8 in November to 88.6 in December, marking the first increase in five months. However, November's reading was the lowest in two years. The index averaged 105.9 in 2006.

The American economy was resurgent in the ski season of 2005-06, when Colorado ski areas smashed a decade-old record for skier visits, surpassing 12.5 million. Colorado visits managed to grow slightly again last winter.

Bob Milne, president of Steamboat Resorts, said ski season reservations at the condominiums his company manages are shaping up well, with some acknowledged gaps.

"The good news is that our reservations have been front-loaded," Milne said. "Right now, January looks busy right up until the 10th, and then it's soft (60 percent to 70 percent occupancy) Jan. 10 to 17."

Mid-January marks a traditionally challenging stretch of the ski season, when families have taken all of the school breaks they can and the industry turns to discounting to attract single adults, Milne said.

Wirth said this week that in late January and early February, he will seek to drop roundtrip airfares from New York area airports - including Newark, LaGuardia and JFK - to Yampa Valley Regional Airport, into the mid-$300 range.

Feb. 1 to 7 could be quiet, and reservations will be driven by snow, Milne said, but Feb. 17 to 24 looks very busy on his calendar as skiers stretch their Presidents' Day weekend.

The fact that so many colleges and universities are holding spring break on one week in March has created another soft spot from March 8 to 15, Milne said, but he predicted that the Chamber's lodging barometer will be maxed out again March 15 to 22.

Comments

Oscar 6 years, 11 months ago

Ski Corp exec's need to understand that there is a third major force at play besides the snow conditions and the ecomony that affects ski tourism. If they don't improve situation at the transit center for drop off and pick up where there are long waits, high frustration, and dangerous traffic conditions at the end of each day, then knowledge of that situation is certainly going to spead and will impact visitors attitude toward coming to Steamboat. Too many buses and private cars crowded into a very undersized transit center is leaving a very bad taste with many visitors.

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prayforsnow 6 years, 11 months ago

Wow, it's nice to see Wirth is in Steamboat for the money and not the snow. At least that's my interpretation of his comment.

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