Ski Area begins phase down |

Ski Area begins phase down

Sunshine, Morningside, Pony Express lifts will close Monday

— The boundaries of the Steamboat Ski Area will effectively shrink on Monday when the Sunshine, Morningside and Pony Express chairlifts are shut down for the season to save operating costs at the ski area.

Ski Are Vice President of Marketing Andy Wirth said Thursday the phasing down of some ski lifts on the mountain is part of an effort to balance skier demand with operational expense. He said it’s a process the ski area undertakes at the end of each ski season.

“It’s clear to me our competitors are doing the same thing,” Wirth said. “And I see other businesses in town making similar adjustments.”

Wirth said the ski area decided to continue operating the short South Peak chairlift to allow skiers to continue accessing trails like Tomahawk in Sunshine Bowl. Instead of riding back up Sunshine, skiers wishing to make another run in the bowl will need to head for Sundown Express.

The closure of Morningside and Pony Express, however, means that trails on Pioneer Ridge and in Morningside Park will be inaccessible by ski lift.

Skiers will also notice that staffing at the Kids Vacation Club, NASTAR racing program, parking lots and on-mountain restaurants will be adjusted downward.

Wirth said this year’s phase down of ski area operations is being undertaken in a climate of economic uncertainty and near-record lows in consumer confidence. However, he categorically rejected a rumor that the ski area might close a week early this year.

“We have no plans whatsoever to contemplate shutting down the mountain early,” Wirth said.

Ski area officials foresaw a month ago that the last week in March and parts of April would lag behind the previous year because of a fragmented spring break for schools around the country.

The Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association’s lodging barometer predicts 9,375 visitors will spend the night in local lodges Saturday. That’s down from 10,744 a year ago. By Wednesday, the number of visitors here will stand at 7,278 compared to more than 9,600 on the corresponding Wednesday in 2002.

The early forecast on tourism for April 5 shows a steeper decline to 5,066 visitors, down from more than 7,800 on the same Saturday a year ago. Resort managers are quick to point out that there is a trend to close-in bookings and the forecasts that look a week ahead can improve.

After experiencing spring snow conditions last weekend, skiers on Mount Werner on Thursday were finding mid winter temperatures and snow conditions near the top of the mountain. At 11 a.m., the temperature was 26 degrees at mid mountain and 11 degrees at the summit. Skiers who dressed for the cold were finding 7.5 inches of new snow on Storm Peak.

The ski area is scheduled to host a variety of special events in April. Several hundred resort managers from all over North America are expected here April 6-12 for the 28th Annual Mountain Travel Symposium.

Professional ski patrollers from around Colorado will be here April 1-2 for a two-day conference and competition that tests their on-snow skills.

Ski fashion teams from Boulder and the United Kingdom will also be here conducting photo shoots.

Jenn Weede will coordinate a fashion shoot using local models for “Energy” magazine. The Boulder-based publication focuses on women’s health and fitness issues.

The team from Ellis Brigham ski shops in the United Kingdom will bring its own fashion models to Steamboat March 28 through April 11 for its catalogue shoot. This is the eighth year Ellis Brigham has shot its catalogue in Steamboat, ski area spokeswoman Cathy Wiedemer said.

The photographer is John Norris, based in Chamonix, France.

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