In what was supposed to be one of the ski industry's most challenging years, an estimated 54 million people hit the slopes this past winter.
While that's down some 5.5 percent from the 2000-2001 season, it's still the third best season ever. That's not bad considering that in the wake of Sept. 11, the slumping economy and a lack of snowfall at the beginning of the season, many had predicted disaster.
For years, ski industry officials have fretted about the declining number of skiers in the United States. Ironically, the Sept. 11 attacks may have helped reverse that trend. Analysts believe the season was above expectations because skiing fits the type of family vacation many are seeking.
Michael Barry, president of the National Ski Areas Association, explained the success of the 2001-2002 season by saying, "underlying it all was the appeal of the mountains and spending quality time with friends and family after Sept. 11."
The numbers, released earlier this week, show there is room for optimism for the ski industry and ski resort towns like Steamboat. And that should provide some added emphasis to the 2002 Steamboat Springs Economic Summit. The theme of the summit is "A Healthy Economy: Challenges and Opportunities in Our Valley."
How small resort towns can put themselves into position to grow and prosper is one of the focuses of the summit. Speakers with vested interest in ski resorts are scheduled including Bill Malone, a former Steamboat chamber executive who has also worked in Jackson, Wyo., and Park City, Utah, and Bob Lee, who oversees the Colorado Tourism Office.
And American Skiing Co. CEO B.J. Fair will give a 45-minute talk on his company's plans for Steamboat, a speech that likely will be a highlight of the summit.
While the ski industry and the Steamboat Ski Area, for that matter has enjoyed largely good news this year, ASC has suffered through a series of well-documented setbacks. Fair's challenge will be restoring confidence in locals that ASC is in position to help Steamboat take advantage of what appear to be positive trends in the industry.
In addition to those mentioned above, a number of other speakers and seminars will be featured at the summit. Leadership Steamboat and the Chamber Resort Association are to be applauded for providing this opportunity to take stock of where we are and where we are headed.