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Opening day postponed

Steamboat Ski Area pushes back season kickoff to Nov. 30

— For the first time in two decades, officials of the Steamboat Ski Area have decided to postpone opening day of the ski season.

The reason was as clear as the cloudless skies over the Yampa Valley on Friday and the numerals on the temperature sign at a downtown bank: 65. As in 65 degrees.

Set to open on Nov. 21, the ski area now won’t open before Nov. 30.

“Due to the extremely unusual weather pattern across Colorado, we have had to postpone opening day for the first time in 20 years,” ski area President Chris Diamond said. “Our snowmaking crews are taking advantage of every opportunity to make snow and the weather forecast is favorable for the resort over the next month.”

In past years, Steamboat has occasionally opened with minimal terrain and quickly expanded available ski runs and lifts as late November storms have swept into the valley. Last season, Steamboat opened four days early. But the double whammy of minimal snowfall and warm temperatures have made it extra tough on the ski area this November.

The average November snowfall at mid-mountain is 27.55 inches and the ski area has logged 4 inches thus far this month.

Although overnight temperatures have been below freezing most nights, they haven’t really dipped into the teens, where

conditions are ideal for snowmaking. And warm days have eaten away at the modest piles of manmade snow that dot runs like Vagabond, Betwixt/Between and Right of Way.

Ski Area Public Relations Director Mike Lane said the decision to delay opening day was made after consulting with a meteorologist. Joe Nichols of WeatherBank, Inc. told ski area managers he expects the ridge of high pressure dominating the western U.S. to break down next week, signaling the return of a normal early winter weather pattern.

Ski Area Vice President of Marketing Andy Wirth said ski area management felt it was better to postpone opening day until a fixed date, rather than to say the ski area would open when conditions permit.

“We think it’s the best business decision to focus in on a date, rather than have a moving target type date,” Wirth said.

Wirth said he’s aware that a floating date can be tough on other businesses like restaurants and lodging properties that need to gauge when to staff up their businesses.

Chuck Porter, general manager of the Sheraton Steamboat Resort and Conference Center, agreed he would prefer to have a fixed date for the postponed opening.

“We’d rather have a date to shoot for,” Porter said. “What this has allowed us to do is call every guest who has a reservation over the Thanksgiving weekend and let them know. We have quite a few of our guests over Thanksgiving weekend who are flying in.”

Porter said the Sheraton had booked 60 room and condominium nights for the Thanksgiving weekend compared to about 100 in a more typical year. They won’t know how many of those reservations they will lose until Monday or Tuesday.

Jennifer Austin, director of revenue management for the hotel, was among the Sheraton employees who divvied up the call list of Thanksgiving guests and got in touch with them. In many cases, she said she was only able to leave a phone message, but among the people she got through to, several said they intended to come to Steamboat anyway.

Ski area officials would rather be trumpeting the news of abundant early snowfall than issuing press releases about the need to postpone opening day. But Wirth said the blow is softened by the fact that other resorts are in the same boat.

Although Copper Mountain and Keystone are open, the headlines are dominated by the probability that Aspen will not be able to host alpine World Cup ski races next week, Wirth said.

Wirth emphatically rejected the possibility that a need to save operating costs at a time when the ski area wouldn’t see many destination skiers anyway, entered into Friday’s decision.

“This was a decision based exclusively on weather trends,” Wirth said. “Economics had little or no impact. It’s simply not an influencing factor.”

Although the Steamboat Ski Area is for sale, and American Skiing Company officials say they are in final negotiations with a buyer, current operating expenses would presumably accrue

to ASC.


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