Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. backs out on covering half of city’s Blue Line
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In a move that many Steamboat Springs City Council members called “a shock,” Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. backed out on its verbal commitment to fund the Steamboat Springs Transit’s Blue Line during the 2021 winter season.
Loryn Duke, the resort’s director of communications, said Ski Corp. had no choice but to cut back due to the decrease in patrons they’ve seen since the state tightened Routt County’s COVID-19 restrictions earlier in the winter season.
“Ultimately, three months ago, we were in a very different place, and we had high hopes for the winter season, but we were also realistic about what the season would look like,” she said. “The reality of being in level orange and not really being able to operate has had major impacts on the resort.”
Duke said Steamboat Resort has seen a larger decline in revenue than the city, and because of that, Ski Corp. officials now believe the Blue Line funding should come from multiple community entities.
“We believe that additional support for the Blue Line is necessary, but we don’t believe it should just come from the ski resort; we believe it should be a community effort,” she said. “We seem to be in more of a financial deficit than the city.”
Ski Corp. offered to cover half the cost of the Blue Line this summer after City Council expressed concern that they would not be able to fund it due to projected losses in sales revenue from COVID-19. In October, the city and Ski. Corp. came to an agreement to each pay about $242,000 for the transit line, which runs only in the winter and stops in West Steamboat, downtown and the ski area. An official contract was not signed.
Then in late December, City Manager Gary Suiter said Ski Corp. President and CEO Rob Perlman alerted him they would no longer be able to cover the costs due to loss of business due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“I’m obviously disappointed, but I think we need to keep talking and try and work through these scenarios together,” Suiter said Wednesday. Council will formally discuss the matter at its Jan. 12 meeting, when the future of the Blue Line and its funding will be decided.
In a short discussion during Tuesday’s council meeting, council members expressed their disappointment.
“I’m discouraged that there was such a big public celebration of Ski Corp. offering funding for this bus line and then them not following through with it,” council member Sonja Macys said at the meeting. “I was honestly shocked to receive that information.”
Though council will discuss the Blue Line’s future next week, several council members said the public may see the impacts immediately.
“Realistically speaking, this is going to have a direct and disappointing impact,” council member Heather Sloop said in the meeting.
Macys said she believes it is unfair that the resort benefits from the Blue Line but has not supported it financially.
“They’re benefiting from the bus system, and we’ve long asked them to try to put something into it,” she said in an interview Wednesday. “I thought we had finally come to an understanding with them that this is a shared responsibility.”
Suiter and Macys both said most ski communities with free transit receive financial help from their resorts.
“They promised this money, and now they’re not going to give it to us,” Macys added. “They’re basically saying we’re stuck with the bill.”
Suiter said Wednesday he had not had direct conversations with Ski Corp., but he said he hoped Ski Corp. representatives would attend the Jan. 12 meeting and continue the conversation.
“I’m hoping they come with something, and I get the impression that they will,” he said.
Duke said Ski Corp. officials plan to attend the Jan. 12 meeting.
All council members and city staff agreed the Blue Line’s future is a priority because city residents rely on it for work and other essential activities.
“We have an obligation to these people who we’ve committed a winter season to,” Macys said.
Steamboat Springs Transit Manager Jonathan Flint said continuing to operate the Blue Line is especially important this season, as COVID-19 guidelines have restricted rider capacity on buses, meaning transit cannot lose buses and serve the high demand of customers, which he said reached 25,000 on the Blue Line alone in December.
“We want to take care of all of those people and make sure they get where they’re going,” Flint said Wednesday.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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