Club sees membership jump

SSWSC grows by 100 skiers, riders

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— Rick DeVos and Sarah Floyd were prepared to mail out a recruitment brochure for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club last fall. But one day in October, they thought better of it.

Winter Sports Club enrollment has jumped 20 percent this winter to 625 youngsters. That's 100 more skiers and riders than a year ago.

"We were working on a marketing mailer to send to the entire valley," DeVos recalled. "I don't remember exactly at what point we called it off. But in October the numbers started rolling and all of a sudden we noticed, 'It isn't stopping.'"

DeVos is the executive director of the 89-year-old not-for-profit club. Floyd is the athletics director for the club.

DeVos said most of this winter's growth in participation can be traced to the entry level age groups, in which children ages 6-10 get their first taste of winter sports. The increased interest has come in all of the Winter Sports Club's programs, DeVos said, but it's clear which discipline is growing the fastest.

"Snowboarding is our biggest growth program," DeVos said. "We have 120 kids this year compared to 80 last year."

But the junior mogul skiing program remains strong and there is renewed interest in Nordic skiing thanks to a two-year-old program called "Little Vikings."

Essentially, Little Vikings is an introduction to ski jumping and cross country skiing, the sports that make up Nordic Combined, DeVos said.

The program has 55 boys and girls enrolled compared to just two in a similar program, Bill Koch League, a couple of years ago.

"On Saturdays when we have a freestyle event going on, and Little Toots (beginning alpine skiing) and Little Vikings, it is just nuts around here," DeVos said with obvious enthusiasm.

DeVos acknowledged that some of the increased enthusiasm for the Winter Sports Club can be attributed to the upcoming winter Olympics in Utah and the likelihood that 15 to 17 athletes with strong connections to the club will be competing there in February. Some of the growth is attributable to new families moving into the Yampa Valley.

However, DeVos said he is convinced that much of the growth can be attributed to the renewed emphasis Floyd has placed on improving programs for the youngest members of the club. With more than a decade of experience at the Steamboat Ski Area's Kids Vacation Club, Floyd approaches her job from the vantage point of a professional in early childhood development, DeVos said.

Winter Sports Club coaches are getting more training than ever before in how to provide the best programming they can for children. DeVos believes parents in Northwest Colorado have begun to respond to the strides the club is making in that regard.

If there is a downside to this year's growth, it's that the club effectively subsidizes each new youngster in the program while trying to hold the line on fees.

The growing endowment and the promise of future revenues from the "Howler" alpine slide at Howelsen Hill hold the potential to ease the club's annual fiscal crunch.

DeVos estimates conservatively that this winter's enrollment translates into 550 local families that are involved in the club.

He praised the volunteer spirit of those families, as well as the support of the Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp., local school districts and the city of Steamboat Springs, for helping to keep the club moving forward.

"All of those things combine to make Ski Town U.S.A. a reality," DeVos said.

To reach Tom Ross call 871-4210 or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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