Thursday, January 31, 2008
By Melinda Dudley Steamboat Pilot / TODAY Newspaper
Steamboat Springs — When the slopes at the Steamboat Ski Area are devoid of skiers and riders in the upcoming off-season, construction crews will take their place.
Before the 2008-09 ski season begins, Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. officials hope to revamp the resort’s on-mountain food and beverage facilities, upgrade the Elkhead chairlift and create new parking solutions, pending approval from Intrawest, ULC, executives next month.
“There continue to be a lot of exciting things headed for Steamboat,” said Intrawest’s Chief Marketing Officer, Andy Wirth, at Ski Corp.’s ninth annual Airline Partners Summit on Wednesday at the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel.
As a fixed-grip chairlift, Elkhead is limited in its speed due to the difficulty of loading four passengers on a fast-moving lift, Wirth said. With upgrades, passengers next season can have a smoother, faster ride, he said.
Given the success of recent revisions to food and beverage facilities at Rendezvous Saddle and Thunderhead, the ski area is looking at enhancements to existing facilities and discussing the possible addition of entirely new facilities.
“Everything’s on the table,” Wirth said.
On-mountain improvements are one of four prongs in the ski area’s long-term development plan, known as Steamboat Unbridled. The strategy also includes base area redevelopment, real estate development and airport and air access.
“In the past 15 years, this resort has been greatly underutilized and struggled to compete in a very competitive market,” Wirth said.
Projects incorporated under Steamboat Unbridled aim to change that through new development and infrastructure improvements, designed in ways that maintain Steamboat’s hospitality and Western charm, Wirth said.
Some base area projects already have gotten under way, including improvements to Gondola Transit Center. Other projects, including roundabouts on Mount Werner Circle, the proposed daylighting of Burgess Creek and a pedestrian promenade at the base of the Headwall area are in the planning stages.
Steamboat Springs currently has lodging for up to 18,700 people, although that figure will drop slightly in the coming years as older properties, such as the Thunderhead Lodge and Condominiums, are demolished to make way for new development, Wirth said.
Just more than half of Steamboat’s lodging capacity is located in the base area, and Intrawest’s real estate focus in the coming years will be on boosting that number, particularly at “high-quality” properties, he said.
While the ski area does not anticipate a need for more airline seats during season until 2010, when additional lodging capacity is developed, efforts already are under way to modernize air traffic control into Yampa Valley Regional Airport.
Because of Colorado’s mountainous terrain, radar capabilities are lost below about 10,000 feet, said Bill Payne, program director for air traffic control modernization at the Colorado Department of Transportation.
A sophisticated new system undergoing installation for the airports in Hayden, Steamboat Springs and Craig will help to eliminate missed approaches and limit diversions, Payne said. The new tracking system is expected to complete testing and become fully operational in time for ski season service in 2009, he said.
The new system will improve airline and passenger experiences, cut down the required intervals between landings from 15 to only two minutes and hopefully limit the need of aircraft to circle while awaiting arrival, Wirth said.
“The whole experience of getting there and getting home is paramount,” Intrawest CEO Alex Wasilov said Wednesday. “We don’t just sell lift tickets.”