Late holiday skiers flooding into Steamboat Springs with more snow on the way |

Late holiday skiers flooding into Steamboat Springs with more snow on the way

A huge crowd of skiers and riders congregate at the base of the Steamboat Ski Area in 2014.

— The Steamboat resort economy appears to be on a roll this holiday season as incoming waves of affluent vacationers alternate with the latest powder storm, and local lodges and restaurants are feeling the positive impacts.

Sheraton Steamboat Resort Director of Sales and Marketing Kristal Eckley said her slopeside hotel has been very busy this week, with the dining rooms bustling, too.

"We're full tonight, we'll be at 95 percent (Friday) and back to 100 percent Saturday," Eckley said.

The Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association expects 15,600 guests to spend the night in town Saturday with mountain condos 95 percent full compared to 88 percent actual occupancy on Jan. 5, 2013. To put the weekend’s tourism in perspective, the U.S. Census estimated Steamboat’s 2010 population at 12,088.

Downtown Steamboat is completely booked for Saturday, according to the Chamber's sampling poll, and U.S. Highway 40 hotels and motels are virtually full.

Visitors to Steamboat this week will encounter abundant snow with a 46-inch base at mid-mountain. Steamboat Ski Area reported 7 inches of fresh snow Thursday morning and there is likely more on the way; the National Weather Service rates the chance of snow here Saturday at 80 percent.

Travelers who enjoy meeting locals still might find a room in a Steamboat home for the coming week through

Eckley said the Sheraton has benefited significantly this holiday period with the addition of 38 renovated suites converted from units previously devoted to interval ownership.

The new suites will be increased by 18 next week bringing the Sheraton to 285 guest rooms. The going rate for a two-bedroom suite Sunday night is $899.

Rex Brice, who oversees five restaurants in town, including Laundry, said three bartenders there took care of a big crowd of celebrants New Year's Eve.

"I want to say they served upwards of 400 cocktails," Brice said. "That's about 75 percent more than ever," before.

Cocktails at Laundry aspire to more than the lowly vodka tonic or rum and coke, with concoctions like Satan's Whiskers and Rosemary Lemondrop on the menu.

Luxury properties increasingly are in demand in Steamboat.

Robin Craigen, whose Moving Mountains property management company manages a portfolio of 45 luxury homes and penthouse condominiums that rent for four figures per night, said he could not be busier this week.

"This is the first time we've been sold out for New Year's," Craigen said. "And January looks solid as we roll into MusicFest next week."

Craigen said he senses that vacationers gradually are shifting attitudes from "this is what I need,” to “this is what I want." After some parties have been disappointed in the past that they were unable to book a property that meets their expectations, he is seeing that they are planning further ahead.

"Our lead time in bookings has gone up over 30 percent, and we have a few bookings for next winter already," Craigen said. "There is definitely a change in behavior (taking place) and significantly less need to discount once we get into the main booking season. It's a long-term process, but when you have demand you have a slow and steady recovery."

Brice said he too is less focused on record-setting nights than the big picture and sustainable business growth when it comes to the resort economy.

"More importantly, what I'm encouraged about right now, is that all of our restaurants are up significantly over the past 12 months. With the optimism of this winter, it's encouraging to look at what's going to happen the next 12 months."

Laundry has had several months in the past year when it was up 50 percent, he added.

Thursday clearly was a changeover day at Yampa Valley Regional Airport with 524 arriving passengers compared to 900 departures. But the next wave is on its way.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1