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Steamboat ski bookings up in air as consumer confidence dips

Sheraton optimistic about winter season with return of conferences

The sun makes a brief appearance on Mount Werner on Friday evening highlighting the fresh dusting of snow on Storm Peak. The ski area opens in 47 days.
Matt Stensland

Steamboat Springs — With the opening day of ski season 47 days away on Nov. 25, snow finally fell on Storm Peak overnight Thursday. But as snow is falling, so is consumer confidence. — With the opening day of ski season 47 days away on Nov. 25, snow finally fell on Storm Peak overnight Thursday. But as snow is falling, so is consumer confidence.

— With the opening day of ski season 47 days away on Nov. 25, snow finally fell on Storm Peak overnight Thursday. But as snow is falling, so is consumer confidence.

This is the time of the year when ski area managers are tracking phone volume in their reservation centers, watching holiday bookings fill up and gazing into 2011 and the heart of ski season.

Ski area officials here have long said that in terms of driving ski season reservations, rising consumer confidence trumps falling snow every time. And in that vein, the news is not great. The Associated Press reported at the end of September that the Consumer Confidence Index was at 48.5, the lowest since February. Economists watch the index because it is a predictor of consumer spending. A high confidence index number is thought to be indicative of a healthy economy.



Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. President Chris Diamond said this week that he’s not ready to forecast his resort’s performance for the season ahead.

“It’s too early to call,” he said. “Key booking deadlines come up later this month.”



Steamboat is trying to entice ski vacationers to book early by offering a 20 percent discount on packages beginning at four nights and three days of skiing. The deadline for 25 percent discounts passed Friday.

John Curnow, general manager at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort, already has seen enough to know the foundation of his hotel’s ski season business has returned after a two-year absence.

The Keystone Symposia is bringing a convention of brain surgeons and scientists back to Steamboat for the first time since 2008. And Curnow says a number of other small conventions already are in place.

“We’re feeling much better,” Curnow said. “The conference business is back this winter, and that’s a big part of what we do.”

The brain surgeons and professional groups like them typically come to Steamboat for continuing education in a resort setting. They satisfy their professional obligation to keep up with their fields while squeezing in a few powder runs.

“They spend money in the village and all over town. They often bring their families, or they shop for their children,” Curnow said.

With a base level of group business in place, Curnow added, his staff can be a little more aggressive about pushing higher room rates and give in less often to discounting.

Skier spending habits

Curnow’s allusion to winter vacationers’ spending habits underscores the reality that it’s one thing to attract vacationers to Steamboat and another to tempt them to spend freely.

Sales tax figures from Feb­ruary and March reflect a complex consumer spending picture. February 2010 sales tax collections were off 3 percent from February 2009, but taxes attributable to general retail sales were up 9.3 percent at the same time restaurants were off 13 percent. Lodging was down 11.5 percent.

Lodging wasn’t down quite as steeply in March — 10.8 percent — but retail receipts were off 5.3 percent. And restaurants didn’t take as steep a hit in March as they did in February — they were down 5.8 percent.

Airline seats reduced

Diamond said Steamboat would have to work hard this fall and winter to maintain the numbers of arriving airline passengers at Yampa Valley Re­­gion­­al Airport because there will be fewer arriving airline seats this winter. Fewer seats doesn’t necessarily translate into fewer arrivals, he pointed out, if the resort can maximize the available seats and improve on the number of seats that were empty last winter.

“We’re off 11 percent (in arriving seats). So we have to improve load factors to get the same or more guests into Steamboat,” Diamond said. “Given how low load factors were last year, that’s achievable.”

Steamboat had 138,182 arriving seats in winter 2009-10 and will see 122,500 in the winter of 2010-11, ski area spokesman Mike Lane said. Of the 15,682 lost seats, 3,700 can be attributed to the end of direct flights from Salt Lake City and 1,700 to the end of Saturday flights from LaGuardia Airport in New York. Other reductions are the result of contracting for smaller aircraft on existing routes.

Further complicating an already tricky ski season is the fact Easter is unusually late in 2011, falling April 24. Many schools key their spring breaks on the Easter holiday, Curnow observed, but the ski area ends its 2010-11 season, as it typically does, on the second Sunday in April, which is April 10.

— To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205 or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com— To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205 or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com— To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205 or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com


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