'Pay-for-powder' effort staying out of the trees

Ski corp. responds to 'First Tracks' concerns

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— Officials at the Steamboat Ski Area reacted swiftly Friday to the remarks from local skiers concerned about the First Tracks program.

First Tracks allows skiers who pay a $35 premium above the price of their lift ticket to board the gondola at 8 a.m., 30 minutes ahead of the rest of the public, and ski in Priest Creek. The head start will allow First Tracks skiers willing to pony up, to get first crack at unblemished snow on powder mornings, or even freshly groomed "corduroy" snow.

The price for season pass-holders was set at $17.50 in an effort to encourage local skiers to take part in First Tracks, Steamboat Vice President of Marketing Andy Wirth said.

However, Wirth said he was impressed by the passionate remarks of skiers quoted in an article in Friday's edition of Steamboat Today. Following a meeting of ski area department heads, they decided to make the gladed tree skiing in Priest Creek off limits to First Tracks groups. Instead, First Tracks will be confined to cut ski trails primarily on the Priest Creek side of the mountain.

"We have a profound level of concern for how locals see the ski community," Wirth said.

A number of ardent skiers interviewed by the newspaper expressed the strongly held opinion that skiers shouldn't be able to obtain "freshies" (untracked powder) by paying a premium for it.

Wirth said he was particularly impressed with the remarks of Jennifer Ebeling, who made an appeal to the ski area managers' sense of ethics.

"It's about the soul," Ebeling told the Today Dec. 14. "Nothing is going to convince ski corp. to stop this. It has to come from the heart. They're selling something you can't sell."

Another skier, Michele Toner urged ski corp. to at least protect the famous powder skiing in the tree runs of the Priest Creek drainage from First Tracks.

"Jennifer Ebeling's comments really struck a chord with me," Wirth said. "I can identify with that. The Priest Creek Trees are the heart and soul of the mountain. I have a favorite line in the Closets, too.

"We do want to preserve the heart and soul of the ski area and especially through the eyes of the local skier. We can listen We can learn."

Contacted Friday for her reaction to the changes in the program, Ebeling said she hadn't even realized that original plans called for First Tracks skiers to be guided into the tree runs in Priest Creek until she read Friday's article. She said she still feels strongly that allowing skiers who pay extra to get the first crack at powder isn't right.

"I still think the first skier in line should be the first skier to ski," Ebeling said.

Adam Fernley, another skier who was quoted in Friday's article, said he thinks the changes to the First Tracks Program represent a "start."

"I'm still concerned about the potential amount of people I just hope it's not a lot of people who are going to take part in the program," Fernley said. "At least if they're keeping them out of the trees, for now it's a pretty decent compromise. I understand the economics, I still don't agree with the ethics."

Steamboat Public Relations Director Mike Lane said changes in the First Tracks program announced Friday will make Twilight, Shadows, the Closets and Priest Creek Liftline off limits to First Tracks skiers until after the lifts open to the public.

The trails ski instructor/guides will have access to with their First Tracks groups will include High Noon, One O'clock, Two O'clock, Three O'clock, Rolex, Daybreak, West Side, Storm Peak Face, Sunset, Lights Out and Moonlight.

Wirth said the ski corp. formulated its plans for First Tracks last spring and ski area executives felt the "steep" discount for season pass holders was a reasonable way to include locals in First Tracks.

"We think the changes to the program, setting aside the tree skiing, allow everyone the best of both worlds," Wirth said. "At the same time, skiers from out of town, from out of state and international skiers can have that Warren Miller experience."

Lane said he hopes local skiers will appreciate that ski area employees think much the way they do.

"A lot of employees who work here carry that same heart and soul as far as making this mountain the best place there is to ski, and I hope people won't lose sight of that," Lane said.

First Tracks skiers must stay with their ski instructor/guide or they will not be allowed to board the Priest Creek chairlift. The prices include a breakfast buffet at Thunderhead.

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