Steamboat Springs Steamboat's winter resort and lodging properties are optimistic about the rapidly approaching ski season, but overall reservations are slightly down compared to last year.
Shifting holiday periods and group-booking patterns are changing reservation trends, and a mix of factors - including the big snow winter of 2005-06 that led to booming reservations last year, and downturns in the national economy this year - have dulled the numbers overall.
"We see a mixed bag as we look across the entire season," said Andy Wirth, vice president of marketing and sales for Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp., and chief marketing officer for Steamboat's parent company, Intrawest. "We see some encouraging trends, particularly Christmas and early January, and we see some concerning trends, such as early December."
While some people might see success in the resort industry as entirely weather-dependent - warm, dry weather caused Steamboat to delay its opening to Nov. 30 - business is much more closely tied to the state of the national economy, Wirth said.
"We certainly have our work cut out for us, and hopefully Mother Nature will do its part," he added.
While Wirth said sales this year are not going to come as easily as last year, the holiday period and January are looking particularly strong for the resort community.
"We're seeing some very encouraging booking patterns for the Christmas time frame, as well as early January," Wirth said. "Frankly, we anticipated that because we increased air capacity."
The Yampa Valley Regional Airport has added an additional 15,000 seats this season and will make nonstop flights to 10 cities this winter.
Expanded air options make it "dramatically easier" for travelers to get to Steamboat, which provides a corresponding boost in reservations, Wirth said.
The week of the ninth annual MusicFest at Steamboat, beginning Jan. 5, is effectively sold out, and the rest of the month is strong because of visits from recreational ski groups.
Vying with Vail
Even if year-to-year comparisons are a bit disappointing, Steamboat Springs does not seem to be suffering in the overall winter vacation market. Travel-oriented Web site Orbitz.com recently named Steamboat Springs its No. 6 destination for travelers booking hotel and vacation packages between Nov. 20 and May 1, a rating that ties Steamboat with Vail.
The No.1 destination was Lake Tahoe, Calif. Breckenridge was the highest-ranking Colorado resort at No. 4. Snowmass, Keystone and Winter Park rounded out Orbitz's top 10.
Mountain Resorts, one of Steamboat's largest vacation rental management companies, is meeting its reservation expectations for the upcoming ski season, even though levels are slightly down from this time last year, said Director of Sales Larry Mashau.
"All in all, I think we're doing really well," Mashau said. "There's a lot of interest out there because of the renaissance of Steamboat."
However, internal revenue projections are being met more because of a higher average nightly rate than the total number of reservations, he said.
Figures for the 2006-07 season received a residual boost from the great snow Steamboat received the previous year, as well as unprecedented bookings from large groups, Mashau said.
"Last year, things came out of the gates real fast due to the unique way groups were booking," Mashau said.
Early December is typically busy with group bookings, which Wirth described as "cyclical" in that they tend to rotate from resort to resort.
The overall booking pace at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort and Conference Center is down for the December to March period, said Jennifer Austin, the resort's director of revenue.
Shifting holiday periods have also had some unexpected effects on reservations.
"December is a little bit softer this year because we're seeing the holiday demand the first week of January instead of the week after Christmas," Austin said.
With Christmas falling on a Tuesday, the week before is a bit softer than the same week last year, Wirth said, echoing Austin's sentiment that the holiday crowds are being pushed into January.
Easter's early arrival, on March 23, has provided a boost in late-season reservations.
"We are seeing strong spring break demand because of the Easter holiday falling in March," Austin said.