Steamboat looks to Front Range for visitors before spring break |

Steamboat looks to Front Range for visitors before spring break

Trabis Greenlee, left, and Dan Ohnsman relax while watching skiers go by the seating area in front of the Slopeside Grill at the base of Steamboat Ski Area on Wednesday after a day on the slopes.

— Resort-based business owners who hang on tight through a challenging late February and early March could be in position for a modest reward in the second half of March. That's when late spring vacations in large metropolitan school districts across the country are expected to boost spring skiing in Steamboat.

"It's going to be a challenging time immediately after Presidents (Day) weekend, and including the first and second week in March," Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. marketing executive Andy Wirth said Wednesday. "We're seeing depressed volume in early March. Our staff is working on another round of very low airfares to drive demand for bookings inside 45 days."

Wirth is vice president of marketing and strategic alliances for Steamboat parent company Intrawest.

The 10-day vacation period from Feb. 12 to 21 that is influenced by the Presidents Day holiday will begin with a show of strength Feb. 12 to 14. The seasonal lodging forecast produced by the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association with Ski Corp. predicts that tourism levels will surpass 2009 and 2008. February tourism could peak on Valentine's Day when the aggregate lodging and second-home occupancy in Steamboat could nudge 85 percent, compared with about 77 percent in 2009 and 73 percent in 2008.

Occupancy rates are expected to dip into the 50 to 60 percent range Feb. 22 to March 7, before climbing again to the final peak of the ski season March 8 to 15, when occupancy will be close to 70 percent.

The new forecast uses mathematical modeling to take into account resort activity attributable to second-home owners, guests of full-time Steamboat residents, and even guests of second-home owners. Wirth said his staff has been able to verify that forecasts for the past 30 days corresponded closely to actual skier visits at the ski area, taking season-pass holders into account.

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The softness in Steamboat's early March projections can be attributed to the general economic malaise of the country, Wirth said, but also to the fact that spring breaks in big metro areas are later than usual. Resort officials will try to fill a portion of the gap by marketing heavily on the Front Range, where vacations in Colorado's largest school districts, including Cherry Creek and Jefferson County, align with the first half of March.

"Front Range skiers turn into destination customers for us in March," Wirth said. "They don't come to Steamboat for one or two nights, they become three-, four- or five-night customers for us."

Wirth said the ski area's customer satisfaction ratings have scored high marks since the first of the year in spite of "modest" snow conditions, a bright spot he attributes to motivated employees across the resort.

Keeping that work force engaged and motivated through late March is critical, he said, because even as the ski season winds down and tourism levels begin to drop, they will remain higher than in the corresponding period in 2008 and 2009.

"This is a call to action," Wirth said, "because we're going to need those same customers again next year."

Sample vacation quotes

■ A hypothetical group of four adults traveling from a medium-size Midwestern city in early March could book airfare and four nights in brand-new luxury accommodations at Trailhead Lodge for about $3,300, or $825 per person.

■ The online travel booking service operated by Steamboat Resorts would route the party from Madison, Wis., through Chicago and onto a direct flight to Yampa Valley Regional Airport, arriving March 10 and returning March 14.

■ The quoted $3,300 for four adults in a two-bedroom condominium at Trailhead includes $528 in taxes and surcharges.