The spring thaw came early to the Yampa Valley, but on the mountain's final day of skiing, there's still a base of more than 60 inches at the summit.
Like everything else, the snow hung in there through a ski season that could have been a lot worse than it was.
Go back five months and look at the prospects for winter. There was much to be worried about:
** The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks severely hampered the airline industry and Americans' willingness to travel by air.
** The national economy was mired in a recession.
** Overburdened with debt, American Skiing Co. was desperately trying with little success, it seemed to sell the ski area.
** And then opening day came and went without snow.
No one knew for sure what would happen, but the smart money was betting on the worst. Fortunately, the worst never came to pass.
The snow did what it was supposed to started on Thanksgiving and continued. Total snowfall was a little below average, but it was better than most other resorts got. Weekend after weekend, the Chamber Resort Association's lodging barometer showed the number of tourists in town were even with or above the previous year. And though final numbers aren't in yet, it appears some 5,000 more people flew into Yampa Valley Regional Airport this ski season than last year. In fact, the airline passenger numbers were comparable with 1999-2000, a record ski season.
Restaurants and lodging properties reported one of the best Marches in memory.
But not everything was rosy. Sales tax receipts were off some 7 percent in the latest report. Hotels and stores report that while traffic is up, margins are down because of discounting used to lure visitors here and because those visitors simply spent less. Airlines, which cut fares considerably to attract travelers in the wake of Sept. 11, also saw profit margins decline. And the construction industry was largely silent through the winter.
But overall, the suffering appears to have been far less than anticipated. In the end, people still came to ski Steamboat. A good chunk of the credit for that goes to the management and personnel at Ski Corp., who started the season not knowing when the resort might sell, learned in February that a group of investors led by Tim and Diane Mueller would buy the resort and were stunned late last month to learn ASC would keep the resort after all. Through it all, the Ski Corp. folks did their jobs and managed to turn what might have been a disastrous season into a successful one. Obviously, many business and property owners managed to do the same.
Let's hope we never have to enter another ski season with the uncertainty of this one. At the same time, we shouldn't forget what it feels like to come out the other side with our community and economy largely intact.