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Snow attracts holiday crowd

Steamboat Ski Area officials won’t release numbers, but it appears that Steamboat is experiencing record holiday business.

From the gondola line that extended up the stairs and past SportStalker in Gondola Square to the rapidly emptying dairy case at the supermarket and shoppers double parked on Lincoln Avenue, it’s clear that Steamboat’s snow advantage is paying dividends.

“We’re extremely pleased with the demand reflected in airline arrival numbers, which are indicative of how strong out-of-state visitation is,” said ski area Marketing Executive Andy Wirth. Wirth said a weakening dollar also has brought a rebound in the number of international visitors this holiday period.

The Lodging Barometer published by the Steamboat Chamber Resort Association on Dec. 24 already was projecting that Steamboat’s lodging properties would be 95 percent full tonight, with 14,300 people expected in town.

As of 2 p.m. Tuesday, Colorado Ski Country USA was reporting that Steamboat had a mid-mountain base of 51 inches with 6.5 inches of new snow. Vail was Steamboat’s closest competitor with a 39-inch base. Breckenridge was reporting a base of 28 inches.

Arnie Kustritz, 70, arranges to spend three months of his year in Steamboat so he can hit powdery weeks like this one.

“I got on the gondola at 8 a.m. and there was no line,” Kustritz said. “I managed to get in six powder runs. I skied Storm Peak face to Tornado, and they were super.”

Kustritz had snowboarded for the past 21 days straight, but switched to skis Tuesday and managed to sprain his thumb. It was wrapped in an Ace bandage, but Kustritz was planning to head up the mountain bright and early again today.

The ski area has announced that it is extending early hours of operation for the gondola through Saturday. Ski area President Chris Diamond said by opening the gondola a half hour early it has been able to transport as many as 1,400 early powder hounds such as Kustritz up the mountain ahead of the heaviest crush from 9 to 10:30 a.m. Skiers who board the gondola early may board Thunderhead Express, Burgess Creek and Four Points chairlifts at 8:15 a.m. followed by Storm Peak Express and Sundown Express at 8:30 a.m.

Steve Cutler of Bryn Mawr, Pa., was riding the gondola Tuesday with his youngsters Noah and Hannah. They were skiing Steamboat for the third time and staying at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort. Cutler said the hotel offers a good value compared to other holiday ski vacations he has taken in Vail and Beaver Creek.

“It’s hard to beat in terms of room rates at the Sheraton,” Cutler said.

Sheraton General manager Chuck Porter said nightly rates at his hotel range from $279 to $379, depending upon location. The Sheraton is full tonight.

“We haven’t seen this level of demand and activity for many years,” Porter said. “It feels more like it used to be before we had so much inventory,” in the overall resort.

Cathy Brown of Lexington, Ky., usually spends the holidays with her family in Beaver Creek, but they decided to try Steamboat this year and would consider returning.

The Browns flew to Denver and rented a car to drive to Steamboat.

“I guess it’s just as well we drove,” Brown said. “I heard the airport was closed.”

Yampa Valley Regional Airport wasn’t forced to close because of the Saturday snowstorm. However, holiday travelers were backed up after some planes were diverted to Denver to take on more fuel as they circled, waiting for their turns to land.

Wirth said that incoming flights Friday through Monday either were full or overbooked with more than 1,000 passengers arriving daily and almost 1,700 expected to arrive Saturday.

The ski area has been actively trying to lure customers away from the ski areas on the I-70 corridor such as Beaver Creek and Vail. Wirth is seeing anecdotal evidence that a newspaper advertising campaign in Summit and Eagle counties touting Steamboat’s snow is paying off. He met two parties at the Steamboat Grand on Tuesday who had driven from a resort on the I-70 corridor to ski Steamboat for a day in the midst of their vacation. They decided to stay ovenight and ski another day even though they already were paying for lodging in the Vail Valley, Wirth said.

Porter said occupancy at his hotel would begin “cascading down” Thursday and reach 50 percent Sunday before going into a lull that will end with the arrival of a medical convention the second weekend in January.

Wirth said most of the holiday travelers will begin flying home this weekend, but just as they end their vacations, Steamboat will see a bounce from Front Range visitation that will persist through Tuesday.

“We see current volumes holding all the way through the sixth of January,” Wirth said. “We have Front Range customers coming in Saturday, Sunday and Monday.”

— To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com


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