High winds in Steamboat bring bust, boom
Ski area closure not expected to affect today’s operations; businesses benefit
March 19, 2010
Steamboat Springs — Gusty winds forced the all-day closure of Steamboat Ski Area on Friday, caused pockets of small power outages around the county, and resulted in an unexpected boom for some local businesses.
High winds that ski area officials said reached peak gusts of 79 mph shut down Mount Werner for the entire day. Although they remained optimistic that the winds might diminish as the day proceeded, officials never felt comfortable giving the green light to lift operations.
Late Friday afternoon, the ski area also canceled its night operations, including meals at Hazie's, Ragnar's and the Western BBQ, each of which requires a ride on the gondola.
"Although we are seeing winds die down, there are still reports of up to 59 mile per hour winds at the top of the gondola, so we have decided to cancel night operations," Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. spokeswoman Loryn Kasten said Friday afternoon.
Ski and snowboard classes were canceled Friday, and the ski area's child care and Kids' Vacation Center services operated indoors.
Kasten said today's mountain operations will be dependent on the weather, but Ski Corp. officials expect the ski area to open at the usual time. This morning’s 5 a.m. snow report indicated winds of only 4 mph. The Elkhead chairlift, however, won't operate on a normal schedule today after winds damaged the lift's communications line. Repairs were scheduled to begin overnight Friday, and the resort expects to open the lift at about 1 p.m. today.
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The ski area previously has been forced to close for an entire day because of inclement weather, though Kasten wasn't sure of the last time it happened. All but a couple of lower-mountain lifts were closed for half of the day March 14 because of winds. The ski area's upper-mountain lifts opened at about noon.
Kasten would not provide specifics about how the ski area is handling lift ticket refunds. She said ticket-holders can call the Main Ticket Office at 970-871-5249 or the Ski School Ticket Office at 970-871-5375 for more information.
The ski area closure left many visitors looking for something to do Friday. That translated to strong sales for some Steamboat Springs businesses.
Lizzie Larock, owner of Old Town Pub in downtown Steamboat, said her restaurant was packed almost as soon as it opened for lunch at 11:30 a.m. It remained that way through much of the day.
"We have been slammed," Larock said. "The gondola shuts down, and people come to eat. They were loving Steamboat even though they got blown off the mountain.
"We had every single seat full, and as soon as people got up, we had a line of people waiting for those seats."
That meant all hands on deck for Old Town Pub employees, including the owners.
"I'll postpone doing my taxes until Monday," Larock said. "We are thrilled. March has been awesome for us."
Some businesses took a proactive approach to attracting customers Friday.
Mark Green, theater manager of Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas in Wildhorse Marketplace, sent out an advisory at 10 a.m. letting lodging properties know that the theater was opening early for matinee shows typically held only on weekends. It turned out to be a smart business move.
"It's been huge," Green said Friday afternoon. "There's not a parking spot in Wildhorse Marketplace.
"We knew the concierges had a lot to deal with today."
Green said 217 people showed up for the matinee screenings. Anticipating a rush of families, he and his staff moved "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" and "Alice in Wonderland" to the theater's two largest screens. It paid off, as they were the most popular movies of the afternoon.
"That's thinking on our toes," Green joked.
Matt Aleksa, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Grand Junction forecast office, said Friday's winds were primarily the result of a strong low pressure system pushing through the region from the north. He expected the winds to die down significantly overnight as that low passed south of Steamboat.
But Aleksa said not to expect significant snowfall from the storm that dumped more than a foot of snow across much of the central mountains and Front Range.
Today's forecast is for mostly sunny skies and a high near 35 degrees. Sunday could be sunny with a high of 44. A chance of precipitation will return to Routt County early next week.
Flight, traffic impacts
United Airlines' flights to and from Denver were the only Yampa Valley Regional Airport flights to be canceled or significantly delayed because of weather Friday. And those delays and cancellations were the result of the heavy snow in Denver, not the weather conditions in Hayden.
Several other YVRA flights departed behind schedule Friday, but all made it out and to their destination cities.
Travel by road in Routt County was a challenge Friday, particularly in the morning. Local law enforcement agencies responded to numerous accidents and slide-offs.
Routt County Sheriff's Office records technician Mellisa Baumgartner said deputies responded to four slide-offs between 6 and 10 a.m. No one was injured in any of those accidents, and no tickets were issued, she said.
Steamboat Springs police Sgt. Dale Coyner said his officers responded to only a couple of wrecks Friday, one of which was caused by a damaged traffic signal at Third Street and Lincoln Avenue. The signal was damaged when a garbage truck drove through the intersection with its dump arm not fully down. Coyner said no injuries were reported in the resulting two-vehicle crash.
Colorado State Patrol troopers could not be reached Friday.
Larry Covillo, president and general manager of Yampa Valley Electric Association, said a few hundred customers in various parts of the county experienced power outages Thursday night and Friday because of snow and wind affecting power lines. Many of those outages were in areas along the Elk River in northern Routt County.
Covillo said that YVEA crews worked through the night to respond to those areas and that no significant outages had been reported.
"In the overall scheme, it hasn't been anything significant," he said. Customers who need to report an outage can call 970-879-1160.