Steamboat Ski Area officials confident about terrain openings

If they can stand, they can snowboard

Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.'s Vice President of Skier Services Jim Schneider said that among the special events being planned for the opening Thanksgiving weekend is the return of the Burton Riglet Park, a program that helps toddlers and other children take the first steps to learning to snowboard. Or, as a Burton spokesman said, "If they can stand, they can snowboard."

Children in the program will ride a youth snowboard affixed with a Riglet Reel that allows an adult to keep a hand on the child’s shoulder while also steering the tip of the snowboard and keeping the student upright.

— Tom Ross

Steamboat Today

Steamboat Springs

Favorable snowmaking conditions during the past few days virtually have assured that Steamboat Ski Area will open the Christie Peak Express chairlift to serve runs like Sitz, Stampede and Vogue on next week’s Scholarship Day.

Steamboat Ski Area Vice President of Skier Services Jim Schneider offered the news to an audience of local business leaders Wednesday morning during the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association’s Business Outlook Breakfast.

The Nov. 21 Scholarship Day serves as the ski area’s first day of the 2012-13 ski season. The day is a fundraiser for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, and all skiers and riders must purchase discounted lift tickets. Season passes won’t be valid until Thanksgiving Day on Nov. 22.

“Temperatures have been ideal for snowmaking, and I think it’s pretty much a sure thing Christie Peak Express will be ready,” Schneider said. “There’s a chance we could get the gondola open for Opening Day.”

A gondola opening will depend on snowmaking conditions during the week ahead. Although overnight lows will be in the 20s, the forecast from the National Weather Service does not offer much hope of daytime snowmaking. Daily high temperatures at 8,900 feet on Mount Werner are expected to be a degree or two above freezing through Monday even as daily highs on the valley floor reach the mid- to upper 40s.

The resort community is hoping for the arrival of clouds that signal snowfall, but the cloud that hovered over the Chamber breakfast meeting had to do with economic uncertainty going into the first six weeks of the ski season.

Larry Mashaw of the Steamboat Springs Lodging Association told the gathering that coming out of the best summer season in years, early ski season bookings at the end of August were improving, but the pace tailed off in early October.

An informal survey of members of the association’s executive committee on Tuesday showed most people were either flat or up modestly over the last few years on Aug. 31, Mashaw said. Now, that trend has changed to anywhere from flat to down slightly from recent years.

Mashaw attributed the change to a preoccupation with the election and low consumer confidence.

The Consumer Confidence Survey reported Nov. 1 that consumer confidence in the U.S. had grown almost 4 points to a rating of 72.2 since the end of September. However, Steamboat Resort officials have said in the past they feel more bullish about the outlook for reservations when the index is greater than 90.

Ralf Garrison, director of the Denver-based Mountain Travel Research Program, told the Vail Daily on Monday that unlike most presidential elections, which tend to boost the optimism of Americans, the 2012 election left them feeling certain that political bickering would resume as the nation faces fiscal consequences at the new year.

The Vail Daily reported that Vail Valley Partnership Executive Director Chris Romer predicted December bookings would be off by “double digits.”

Adonna Allen, president of Alpine Bank in Steamboat, told the Chamber audience Wednesday that the feeling of unease is apt to continue with the “fiscal cliff” looming on Jan. 1.

“None of us really know what the ‘fiscal cliff’ means,” Allen said.

However, she said the convergence of massive spending cuts called for in the 2011 Budget Control Act, the pending disappearance of the 2 percent tax break on payrolls, the affect of changes in the alternative minimum tax regulations on second-home owners here, and the unclear implications of Obamacare all add up to unease about the nation’s economic health.

“Local businesses are not hiring and they’re cutting back on inventory,” Allen said. Bank “deposits are up in our valley, but that’s partly because investors are keeping their cash in a safe haven like banks.”

Mashaw said resort property managers are encountering some reticence on the part of travelers because of last winter.

“There’s definitely a bit of a snow hangover for our guests,” Mashaw said. “We’re getting questions like, ‘How much snow is there going to be on March 13?’ I tell them last year was an aberration and that’s not going to happen two years in a row. That’s what I tell myself every day.”

Mashaw said Steamboat should see strong group business Dec. 10 to 15 and can expect a slow patch Dec. 19 to 25 before the holiday crowds arrive.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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