Steamboat anticipating 2,600 guests for 1st Saturday of ski season

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— Lodging numbers for the opening weekend of ski season are a little soft, but that’s not unusual for the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend when vacation-home owners come to town before winter tourism kicks in fully.

The Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association is forecasting 2,600 guests will spend Saturday night here. That’s down from a forecast of 3,000 for Saturday, Nov. 26, 2011.

And Steamboat Ski Area officials announced late Wednesday afternoon that the gondola and the Heavenly Daze trail will open Friday.

Steamboat had a stronger snow message on opening weekend 2011: There was ample man-made snow coverage for skiing from the top of the gondola down, and the resort saw 14 inches of fresh snow on the weekend before Thanksgiving 2011. That was enough for 3,600 visitors to turn out for the holiday weekend last year.

Longtime locals and guests recall that a Thanksgiving opening never was contemplated before the resort installed snowmaking in 1981. And even with snowmaking, a November opening often is touch and go right up until the last minute. November 2006 and 2007 were prime examples.

November 2006 saw 49 inches of natural snow, and Steamboat enjoyed a robust opening weekend. The Chamber predicted 3,900 people would be in town for the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and 4,900 actually turned out to romp in fresh powder. The winter of 2006-07 finished up with a respectable snow total of 316 inches.

The following season, in November 2007, the ski area saw just 23 inches of natural snow for the month and, with warm weather prevailing, had to delay opening until Nov. 30. The Chamber predicted 3,000 visitors would show up for the postponed opening weekend. Naturally, that winter of 2007-08 saw a record snow total of 489 inches.

This week, the Chamber projects that mountain hotels will be 19 percent full Saturday and mountain condos will be just 14 percent full. The forecast indicates downtown lodging properties will be 26 percent full, and U.S. Highway 40 motels will be 19 percent full.

Lodging numbers are expected to slip to just 900 guests Nov. 28 but rebound to 2,200 by Dec. 1, when mountain hotels already are 19 percent full.

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

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