Planning for winter: Steamboat Resort, area businesses grapple with COVID-19 | SteamboatToday.com
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Planning for winter: Steamboat Resort, area businesses grapple with COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing widespread uncertainties for Steamboat Springs businesses, from the ski area to lodging companies. Leaders and business owners are trying to make the most of the coming months with innovative strategies.
John F. Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — With just two months until Opening Day at Steamboat Resort, local leaders, businesses and ski area officials convened for a webinar Thursday to discuss the winter season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The webinar was the first of a monthly series, called Steamboat Ready, organized by the Steamboat Springs Chamber to answer questions about and find solutions for the coming months. It included updates from the Chamber, Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. and the city of Steamboat Springs as well as from the local lodging, restaurant and outdoor industries.

The disruptions and financial fallout of the pandemic are posing some major challenges to a community that depends heavily on tourism, particularly during the winter. 

Ski season

At the top of many people’s minds is what the ski season will look like. Ski Corp. President and Chief Operating Officer Rob Perlman admitted he does not have all the answers but offered what details he could.

Much of his talk reiterated a letter Ski Corp. sent earlier in the month regarding the 2020-21 winter season. One new detail Perlman shared is the addition of a mobile pizza parlor that will travel around the ski area on a snow groomer.

Pass holders and people with vacation packages will receive priority for access at Steamboat Resort. As of now, these guests will not be required to make reservations, according to Ski Corp.

A vacation package includes any bundle of a lift ticket with one or more products from Ski Corp., such as lodging, equipment rentals or airfare. People who purchase a package before Nov. 2 will be able to schedule their vacation on their desired dates, Perlman said.

Steamboat Resort is not currently offering standalone lift tickets, Perlman said, but that could change in the future for non-peak periods.

The resort also plans to limit uphill access, he added, but it is unclear exactly how it will do so.

“It won’t be the same free-for-all like it has been in the past,” Perlman said of uphill skiing.

The goal of these measures is to avoid congestion on the mountain and to prevent further spread of the novel coronavirus.

Reservations are required for most non-lift products at the ski area, such as ski lessons, rentals, fittings, night dining at Hazie’s and Haymaker and daytime dining at Hazie’s, Ragnar’s, Timber & Torch and Stoker.

Steamboat Resort implemented a new refund policy to provide more flexibility with booked trips. For more information, visit steamboat.com/plan-your-trip/2020-2021-worry-free-vacation-policy.

Alterra has Adventure Assurance, which allows skiers and riders who purchased an Ikon Pass for the 2020-21 winter season to defer the pass until the next season “for any reason, with no fee.” The pass must be unused to defer. 

There also is a refund component to the pass if any or all resorts close due to COVID-19. Pass holders have two options when it comes to receiving this refund.

This is where things get a bit tricky. Anyone with an Ikon Pass automatically is signed up for an option to receive a refund based on the number of resorts that close among all Alterra-owned destinations due to the virus. 

A second option is to base the refund on a single resort, which Alterra calls one’s “home resort.” Selecting Steamboat Resort as one’s home resort is advantageous for those who plan to primarily ski here. In this case, one would only receive compensation if Steamboat closed for some amount of time, but the refund would be greater, according to Ski Corp. officials. 

Here is an example officials gave. If Steamboat closes for half of the season and a pass holder listed it as his or her home resort, he or she receives a refund on half of the value of the pass. If that person had selected all resorts for the refund policy and Steamboat Resort is the only ski area to close due to COVID-19, the pass holder would receive less than a 5% refund because there are still other options for skiing within the Ikon Pass conglomerate.

The refund choice does not affect the destinations skiers and riders can visit. Pass holders have until Oct. 1 to select their option. 

Updates on public transportation

Another factor complicating Steamboat’s winter season is the city’s public transportation system. Steamboat Springs Transit buses can only operate at 25% capacity, and it is unclear if that will increase in the coming months. 

“If we see visitation get anywhere near normal levels, it’s going to present a serious challenge for people being able to use the buses unless those capacity limits change,” said Steamboat Springs City Council President Jason Lacy.

With funding cuts on the horizon, the city is planning to eliminate the Blue Line, according to Lacy, which runs from the west end of town to the ski area. It supplements the Red Line, which follows the same route.

Resort shuttles plan to operate at 50% capacity, Perlman said, and Ski Corp. is looking at ways to make those shuttles as efficient as possible.

Updates from other local industries

Industry leaders representing local lodging, restaurants and outdoor businesses expressed a mixed outlook for the winter, clouded by lingering uncertainties.

The past couple of months have been better than expected for local lodging companies, even based on pre-pandemic forecasts, according to Resort Group President Mark Walker. He is unsure what the winter will bring, saying it depends on how comfortable people feel traveling and the strength of the economy.

Kathy Elliott from Christy Sports said her business has experienced disruptions to its manufacturing and shipping due to the pandemic. Employees are working to stock shelves in time for winter customers. More than ever, it is important to support local businesses, Elliott said.

Rex Brice, owner of Rex’s Family of Restaurants, said the big challenge to local eateries is seating. In the winter, he is planning to operate his restaurants at 50% capacity. Other restaurants are looking for innovative ways to increase capacity, such as Aurum’s plans to offer dining in outdoor yurts.

Good news from the city

While this winter brings a lot of restrictions, Steamboat is trying to offer some new activities to look forward to. The city plans to convert the tennis courts at Howelsen Hill into outdoor ice skating rinks with free admission, according to Lacy.

There also will be skiing along with the Ski Free Sundays at the city-owned Howelsen Hill, the longest-operating ski area in North America.

The city is working with local businesses to support them through the coming months, added City Manager Gary Suiter. He encouraged the community to stay optimistic and look for creative solutions to make the most of the coming months.

“Squeeze those lemons, add some sugar and let’s make some lemonade,” he said.

To reach Derek Maiolo, call 970-871-4247, email dmaiolo@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @derek_maiolo.


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