11K visitors forecast for holiday weekend

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— Steamboat Springs is expected to play host to more than 11,000 overnight vacationers Saturday, about 1,800 fewer guests than came to Steamboat for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday in 2008.

The Lodging Barometer, published by the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, anticipates 11,200 visitors will be checked into Steamboat lodging properties Saturday night. That compares to 13,000 visitors for the corresponding Saturday last year.

Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. spokeswoman Loryn Kasten said her company wouldn't comment on the outlook for future business. However, she said the last week in December and early January vacationer visits were better than anticipated.

"Our holiday period exceeded our expectations," Kasten said. "We attribute that to the snow that fell right before the holidays and the popularity of the deals we offered."

The Lodging Barometer is released every Wednesday, leaving time for spontaneous travelers to push the numbers higher. Steamboat's overall occupancy rate Saturday is expected to be 75 percent. The community's bed base includes 17,281 pillows, down from 18,382 last ski season.

Friday was a busy day at Yampa Valley Regional Airport, where arriving flights were 86 percent full with 1,200 arriving passengers.

Airport officials released December passenger numbers this week. Arrivals were down from 20,464 in December 2007 to 18,332 in December 2008.

Ski Corp. Airline Program Manager Janet Fischer said the bulk of the decline could be explained by the fact the starting date for most of the direct flights to YVRA was five or six days later last month. The first flights on Continental and American airlines, for example, did not operate until Dec. 18. The net result was a 7 percent drop in inbound December capacity, or 1,900 seats, Fischer said.

Despite the late start to the ski season jet program, the total number of ski season airline seats is within 500 of last season at 162,200.

Fischer also confirmed that Frontier Airlines and SkyWest (operating as United Express), flying between YVRA and Denver, have cut Tuesday and Wednesday flights from three a day to two during January.

Steamboat recently targeted Front Range skiers with an offer of one day of skiing at each of three Intrawest resorts, Winter Park, Copper Mountain and Steamboat, for $99. It was dubbed the Pow Pow Platter.

"We sold out our limited availability before the deadline," Kasten said.

The promotion was meant to tap into the trend of vacationers staying close to home during the economic recession.

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