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Mountain News: It's a good time for squeezing a buck



LAKE TAHOE, Calif. - Lodges in ski towns are getting fuller even if hoteliers aren't necessarily getting richer as tourists continue to pick over the market for bargains.

At Incline Village, on the shores of Lake Tahoe, bookings are tracking up 10 to 15 per cent compared to last year at Vacation Station, a collection of 100 cabins, condominiums and rental homes. Reservations had dipped 35 to 40 per cent two years ago.

But profits have lagged, says Don Cauley, general manager. "We are giving up revenue in order to get people to come back," he tells the Northern Nevada Business Weekly. "We are recovering somewhat, but we are nowhere near where we were two or three years ago."

Snowfall will probably push or drag the rate of recovery.

"Eventually, snow will really get into the equation - this time of year we start to do the snow dance," Les Pederson, of a lodging property called Squaw Creek, told the Business Weekly.

Snow is already part of the equation at Steamboat Springs, Colo., where the ski area going into Thanksgiving had received one-third as much as was received all of last winter.

With snow on their side and the economy edging forward, Steamboat ski officials hope for a strong winter. The Steamboat Pilot reports that local government officials aren't so sure.

They assume fewer sales tax collections because there will be 11 per cent fewer available passenger seats on incoming flights. Fewer seats are available this winter because the community had to cut back on its revenue guarantees - the result of having to pay out to cover guarantees during the last two winters, when fewer people were flying.

One lodging agency reports offering gas coupons of $50 to $100, depending upon length of stay, hoping to nudge skiers into committing to Steamboat vacations by driving.

The Aspen Times reports that lodges there continue to sweeten their deals. The Little Nell hotel, a high-profile, high-rent property operated by the Aspen Skiing Co., is offering free lift tickets and extra nights. The St. Regis Aspen also has add-ons.

"I think everybody is out there looking for a deal, even those that don't need a deal," said John Speers, general manager of the Little Nell.

Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, a reservations agency, reports a hotel industry saying that three-star guests can afford five-star accommodations at four-star prices.

The average daily rate for rooms booked by Stay Aspen Snowmass fell from $440 two winters ago to $383 last winter, mostly because of free days tacked onto multi-day deals. But hoteliers have been reluctant to actually discount room rates for fear of consumer resistance if the economy starts charging like the bulls of Pamplona.