Steamboat's snow message building resort momentum beyond the New Year

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— The weekend’s tourism outlook in Steamboat is soft in spite of nearly 4 feet of fresh snow on Storm Peak this week, but the crowds are still coming for New Year’s weekend.

And Ralf Garrison of the Mountain Travel Research Program (MTRiP) said Wednesday that if enough holiday skiers use their smart phones to broadcast the powder message, it could bode well for the rest of the ski season.

“The experience the Christmas guest conveys (via social media) has a lot to do with the momentum for the rest of the season,” Garrison said. “The value on the balance of the season can be considerable. We’re playing a momentum game now.”

The lodging barometer released by the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association on Wednesday anticipates 7,300 visitors in town Saturday night — enough to generate 50 percent occupancy in the resort’s bed base. But there were anecdotal reports Tuesday of hotel reservationists hustling to keep up with incoming phone calls and that 9,900 guests are expected to be in town by Wednesday.

“Back-to-back snowstorms and 6 feet of snow at the summit in December has the phones ringing and fans visiting the website and social media outlets,” Steamboat Ski Area spokeswoman Loryn Kasten wrote in an email. “All of that helps build excitement about spending the holidays and after in Steamboat. There was a slow start to the season, but the momentum from these recent storms has propelled Steamboat into the forefront of places to be this winter.”

Bob Milne, president of Wyndham Vacation Rentals North America, confirmed that Internet searches monitored by his company show a significant uptick in interest for “best snow in Colorado,” for example, in the timeframe of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Presidents Day.

“Watching Google analytics, we’re seeing a transition to January, February and March,” Milne said.

Wyndham Vacation Rentals manages mountain vacation properties in Sun Valley, Vail, Summit County, Beaver Creek, Aspen, Park City and Deer Valley as well as in Steamboat.

The heavy snows have arrived at mountain resorts across the west like Steamboat, but the powder memo is too late to significantly change December tourism, according to Garrison.

MTRiP surveyed 16 western mountain resort destinations and concluded that as of Nov. 30, advance reservations were down by as much as 12.3 percent for December 2012 compared to the same time in 2011.

Milne confirmed that with variations from destination to destination and among properties, those numbers fit what his mountain resorts are experiencing. He added that the holiday period has not been impacted as greatly as were the first two weeks in December, which depend on drive-to skiers who tend to be very attuned to the snow message.

Garrison said a positive snow message like the one resorts are sending out this week provides significant psychological value not just to ski town locals but to “passion-based skiers anywhere in the country.”

It all boils down to a trend he calls "identity travel."

“It’s the difference between someone who says ‘I am a skier’ and someone who says ‘I go skiing,’” Garrison said. If you are a skier, “Your relationship to natural snow is who you are. It’s a feeling you can’t get any other way. It doesn’t matter what the economy is.

"When times are bad, the need to get to your happy place is even greater.”

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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