Steamboat Springs If you were skiing the delicious packed powder on the Tomahawk trail at the Steamboat Ski Area Thursday morning, you might have heard loud whoops and shrieks of delight coming from the spruce trees at the edge of the run whoops and shrieks with an accent from the other side of the pond.
No need to be concerned, it was only the Cotton, Sisson and Gilbert families from England, skiing with their American friends, the Joneses from Chappaqua, N.Y.
Greg Jones was gleefully leading his own daughter, Natalie, and the British children in a game of follow the leader.
"I want to go back in the trees," pleaded Jack Sisson, 7.
Despite the 10-hour flight from London's Gatwick Airport to Denver on British Airways, a significant number of British families are sampling winter sports in the Colorado Rockies.
Louise Sisson, Jack's mom, said her most recent ski trip before Steamboat was to the Italian Alps. She was struck by the sheer size of Mount Werner and reveled in the beauty of the snow-covered trees lining the Sundown Express chairlift in Priest Creek.
"We don't get this at home," Louise said. "All of the skiing in the Alps is above treeline. I really like being able to ski through the trees, This is marvelous."
Steamboat Ski Area spokeswoman Cathy Wiedemer said about 12 to 15 percent of the ski area's business originates from points overseas. And of that business, Great Britain and Australia are the two greatest points of origin.
During a speech at the Steamboat Grand Hotel this winter, marketing consultant Peter Yesawich said foreigners represent a largely untapped market for the American ski resort industry to pursue.
Sue Baldwin, director of marketing and international programs for Colorado Ski Country USA, said skiers from the United Kingdom accounted for 2.6 percent of Colorado's 10.5 million skier visits in 2000. Baldwin estimated that translates to about 40,000 skiers accounting for 275,000 skier visits.
Wiedemer said Steamboat employs a British expert in its sales division, and she herself has traveled to ski and snowboard shows in England sponsored by a newspaper called The Daily Mail.
"Even though the Alps are closer to get to, English people are really interested in Colorado," Wiedemer said. "We hear that they like the variety of instruction offered in our ski schools and the professionalism of our instructors."
Louise Sisson echoed those comments: "The ski school is superbly organized. The instructors learn the children's names and they have time for each one of them."
Roger Cotton, Louise's brother, and his friend Rob Gilbert estimate they are paying 1,200 British pounds per person for the entire trip, or about 5,000 pounds for a family of four.
At an exchange rate of $1.42 for a British pound, Gilbert and his three sons are spending about $7,100 for their skiing holiday in Steamboat. They arrived on Feb. 16 by bus from Denver and left on the return trip Saturday.
Both men agreed that the trip to Steamboat turned out to be a little more expensive than they had anticipated.
Cotton conceded that he didn't investigate the cost of lift tickets, lessons and "hiring skis" before leaving his home in London.
"I knew the travel would cost more than going to Europe, but I guess I assumed everything else would be cheaper," he said.
That turned out not to be the case. Cotton said he spent more than $200 to rent two sets of skis and more than $300 on ski lessons.
Cotton, a wine wholesaler in London, said he wasn't certain exactly how much he spent on lessons for himself and his daughter Harriet, 10, plus lift tickets and ski rentals. Once he saw the prices, he just handed over his credit card, he said.
Louise Sisson's husband, Philip, works in an advertising agency in their home of Chalfont St. Giles outside London. Gilbert used to work with Philip Sisson and now imports decorative tiles from all over the world.
The three British families came to Colorado at the recommendation of the Joneses, who met the Sissons on their honeymoon a decade ago.
The Cottons, Sissons and Gilberts said they would all like to come back maybe not next year, but in the near future.
Louise Sisson, who organized things from the English side of the equation, said everyone was impressed with the convenience of their local accommodations. And although it may be a clichn Steamboat, they were very taken with the friendliness of the resort.
"It's the American manner that you're famous for," Louise said. "'Have a good day,' no one would say that at home."