Gail Hedge, left, and her daughter Olivia stroll through the Torian Plum Plaza on Friday during a visit to Steamboat Springs. Lodging properties reported strong bookings through the holidays, but the lack of snow has started to slow the pace of those bookings for the rest of the season.

Photo by John F. Russell

Gail Hedge, left, and her daughter Olivia stroll through the Torian Plum Plaza on Friday during a visit to Steamboat Springs. Lodging properties reported strong bookings through the holidays, but the lack of snow has started to slow the pace of those bookings for the rest of the season.

Ski season bookings slow in Steamboat; lodging properties stay optimistic

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— A lack of snow across much of the West didn’t appear to impact resort lodging property bookings through December, but it’s now starting to slow the pace of a strong early ski season.

Overall bookings for Western resort lodging properties remain up for the rest of the 2011-12 ski season, but reservations taken in December for arrivals through May dropped nearly 22 percent in mountain resort communities compared with the same time last year, according to a report released Monday by the Mountain Travel Research Program. Steamboat Springs resort officials confirm a similar trend taking place here.

The lack of a strong “snow message” could be largely to blame.

By this time last year, Steamboat Ski Area had received more than 200 inches of snow. The ski area reported receiving 90 inches in November 2010 alone. As of Saturday afternoon, the ski area has reported 97 inches of total snow since October.

Tom Foley, director of operations for Denver-based Mountain Travel Research, said there is a correlation between a decline in bookings and the lack of snow.

“What’s happening now, we have some economic momentum that really started in October that wasn’t supported by snow,” he said. “While we’re still seeing year-over-year increases from last year, the pace is slowing.”

Mountain Travel Research compiles data from 265 property management companies in 15 resort communities in Colorado (including Steamboat Springs), Utah, California and Oregon.

According to this month’s Mountain Market Briefing, as of Dec. 31, bookings for the six-month period through June had dipped to 6.7 percent above last year. An earlier report indicated that bookings through April were 10.8 percent higher than the same period in 2011.

“Unfortunately, because of this lack of snow, people haven’t been booking, and it’s been catching up with us,” said Mark Walker, vice president of Resort Group, the largest locally owned property management company in Steamboat.

Despite little early season snowfall, bookings were strong through the holidays at many of the Resort Group’s properties, Walker said. He said guests reported being pleased with the conditions and having a great time.

But since the calendar turned on 2012, Walker said phone calls to Resort Group properties have declined significantly.

The hope is that the turnaround is just as quick.

National Ski Areas Association President Michael Berry said any lost bookings as a result of snow will just as quickly come back once the flakes start falling. A major winter storm was expected to leave plenty of fresh snow on the slopes of Mount Werner on Sunday morning.

“What we do know is the recent snowfalls will re-energize the pipeline,” he said. “We should look forward to infill nicely as word of this snow gets out.”

Holiday Inn of Steamboat Springs General Manager Barbara Robinson said the hotel’s guests have lauded the conditions. Robinson said it’s the Front Range visitors who are waiting for better snow conditions. Still, Robinson said she’s not worried about the weather.

“It will come, and when it does, the people will book,” she said. “We’re definitely seeing a positive trend with the economy. We’re still very optimistic for one, that the snow will come and two, that the season will pan out well. The airfares are particularly enticing right now. It’s probably the best airfares that we’ve had into Steamboat right now. That helps.”

Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing Rob Perlman told attendees of a Business Outlook Breakfast on Wednesday that direct flights into Yampa Valley Regional Airport from Dallas and Chicago were less than $300.

That’s good news for consumers, who have indicated by their recent buying habits that they’re still willing to spend money, Foley said. He said consumer confidence is up significantly for the second month in a row.

Foley added that he is encouraged by other economic indicators, such as unemployment rates dropping for four consecutive months and the Dow Jones Industrial Average continuing to increase. But he said the economic issues still taking place in Europe are a cause for concern.

According to the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association’s lodging barometer, an informal polling of lodging properties to gauge visitor numbers for upcoming weeks, 7,500 guests are expected to stay overnight in Steamboat this Wednesday, up from a forecast of 7,200 for the corresponding Wednesday in 2011. Occupancy could take a dip next weekend, however. The barometer indicates that 7,900 guests are expected to spend the night of Jan. 28 in Steamboat, down from the forecast of 8,700 guests on the same Saturday night in 2011.

Despite the trend that appears to be slowed booking numbers for the rest of the 2011-12 season, Walker still has a reason to be optimistic.

“I’d still put our (skiing) conditions against anybody out there,” he said. “... I still have hope, but we’re seeing a dip. Thankfully, our group business is strong for January and February, but individual bookings have dropped off. We need good snow to get the phones ringing again.”

To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com

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