Weather could dictate holiday crowds

Lodging barometer projects 39 percent occupancy for weekend

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As Memorial Day weekend marks the official start of the summer tourist season in Steamboat Springs, restaurants are padding their schedules and the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association has released its first lodging barometer since the close of ski season.

But even with these signs of summer and its accompanying crowds, Memorial Day weekend will be only half as large as some weekends later in the season. The lodging barometer projects 39 percent occupancy for lodging properties today, or 5,900 visitors. To compare that to a busier weekend, the barometer projected 10,800 visitors for Saturday, July 14, 2007.

The Chamber's weekly lodging barometer is a nonscientific poll meant to help property managers and restaurant owners gauge their staffing needs. Today's projection is 116 guests higher than the corresponding Saturday in 2007. Chamber Executive Vice President Sandy Evans Hall said the actual number of visitors could jump considerably depending on Mother Nature.

"Memorial Day tends to follow the weather," Evans Hall said. "If we've got a decent weather pattern coming up over the weekend, we may do pretty well. : Memorial Day tends to be a last-minute booking pattern for people."

For example, Evans Hall said, poor weather on the Front Range often drives people into the mountains for the holiday weekend if better weather is expected there. According to the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, there is a 30 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms in Steamboat today with high temperatures from 55 to 65 degrees. Forecasts for Denver call for a 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms with a high near 76 degrees. Similar weather in both locations is expected Sunday and Monday.

In addition to scheduled observances of Memorial Day, Evans Hall said the fifth annual Steamboat Classic youth lacrosse tournament will bring many visitors to town this weekend. The tournament will bring 28 out-of-town teams to compete in fifth-, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade tournaments. Competitions also are scheduled this weekend at the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs and the Routt County Rifle Club gun range.

Despite a 1 percent projected increase in occupancy today over last year, downtown occupancy is projected to take a major hit. While 86 percent occupancy was projected last year, only 45 percent is expected today. That loss is made up for by big gains in other areas, such as an 11 percent projected increase in mountain hotel occupancy, from 54 percent last year to 65 percent this year.

That trend reverses itself in projections for Wednesday, when 70 percent occupancy is projected downtown, but only 14 percent occupancy is projected at mountain hotels. Evans Hall said she suspects that is because of runners participating in next weekend's Steamboat Marathon. Runners tend to stay downtown and arrive early to get acclimated, Evans Hall said.

- To reach Brandon Gee, call 871-4210

or e-mail bgee@steamboatpilot.com

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