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Winter's arrival in Steamboat Springs was swift and none too late. One day it's a sunny 60 degrees outside. Twenty-four hours later, it's in the 20s and there's a foot of snow on the ground.

We had heard all the stories about those years when people picnicked on the Headwall on New Year's Eve because there wasn't any snow. We worried that, on top of all the other things that have gone wrong lately, maybe this was one of those years. Reservations were down, airline travel was down and then the ski area's targeted opening date came and passed Wednesday under clear skies and mild temperatures.

What a difference a few days makes.

The snow has come, and is still coming, meaning the ski area should be able to open Friday after a week's delay. Even for those dreading it, the arrival of snow is a promising sign, especially this year.

Even more promising is that most of those who made reservations in Steamboat over the Thanksgiving weekend apparently came anyway though they couldn't ski. Seems many simply wanted to get away for a while. Besides, many discovered they could at least sled. Some used tubes, and many others made a run on the saucers and sleds at the local Wal-Mart.

Those who went to the Wal-Mart ran into healthy crowds, another promising sign. We have all heard the harsh forecast because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, job layoffs and the worsening economy the holiday shopping season will be lackluster.

Apparently, someone forgot to tell the shoppers. From lining store parking lots in Denver at 3 a.m. to braving hazardous conditions to drive from Craig to Steamboat, consumers did what they always do the day after Thanksgiving. Early indications are that crowds and sales were just as strong as they have been in recent years.

Of course, retailers markedly reduced prices out of fear the shoppers weren't going to come. Surely that helped. But after all the doom and gloom talk of recent weeks crowds of shoppers in stores inspires confidence where there had been fear.

So too, does seeing snow on the ground for Thanksgiving in Steamboat.

We're not out of the woods yet, but the events of the past few days at least make us feel like we're headed that way.

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