Steamboat Springs Kris Hagenbuch will never forget being invited to the home of the late Hazie Werner for a meal during his first winter in Steamboat.
That was 24 years ago, and he's still applying some of the wisdom he picked up around the dinner table that evening.
Hagenbuch is a veteran ski instructor and so proficient at his job, he is an examiner for the Professional Ski Instructors of America. Along with his ability to teach others to ski, he's honed his own people skills along the way. He is organizing the 2002 Service Summit 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. at the Steamboat Grand Hotel and Conference Center.
Hagenbuch became involved out of a commitment to perpetuating Steamboat's reputation for offering a level of friendly service that is neither forced nor faked. The summit is being co-hosted by the Chamber Resort Association.
"It's important to treat people well and have them come back, because we're losing them," Hagenbuch said.
"People are looking for consistent service across the board. We have to ask ourselves, 'what can we do to share the passion and make sure we retain the ability to make a livelihood in the industry we love so much?'"
Hagenbuch recalls that he was made to feel very welcome at the Werner dinner table back in 1978, and that the salmon Hank Kashiwa brought back from Alaska was delicious. He also remembers a conversation about the tendencies of people who had lived in Steamboat for several ski seasons to talk disparagingly of people who were more recent arrivals.
"Hazie told us that when she heard people talking that way, she'd say to them, 'Well, we let you come didn't we?'"
Hagenbuch believes that a big part of what Steamboat has to offer as a vacation destination is the open friendliness that comes naturally in a small Western town a town that has been somewhat isolated for most of its history. Taken for granted, he fears that special quality can gradually erode. One of his goals for the Service Summit is to create a greater awareness of the Steamboat experience, and utilize those shared qualities to create a culture of community-wide service.
The conference is intended for a range of participants representing a cross section of local business personnel, Hagenbuch said. He hopes to see owners, managers and line staff, both young and old, among those at the conference.
The Service Summit will be facilitated by former Steamboat resident Rudy Miick. He currently bases his consulting firm in Boulder.
Hagenbuch is intent on achieving tangible results and has scheduled hour-long follow-up meetings throughout the winter.
Hagenbuch promises the Service Summit will not be dominated by talking heads. The conference will kick off with brief presentations by Ray Heid and Loris Werner, who have both been associated with the ski mountain since before its name was changed to Mount Werner. They will tell stories about the pioneer spirit behind the building of the Steamboat Ski Area.
Participants will divide themselves into small groups in order to talk about the level of service they'd like to see Steamboat rise to.
The next step will be to devise action plans intended to actually make things happen.
Hagenbuch tells his own anecdote to explain why he believes working in a ski area cafeteria involves much more than the simple act of flipping burgers.
The derivation of the word "restaurant" is a phrase that means "restorer of the soul," Hagenbuch said. Thus, everyone who works in a restaurant has a profound role to play as a host. The satisfaction they take from their job should be the same "satisfaction that comes from making a difference in somebody's life," he said.
After nearly a quarter century working as a Steamboat ski instructor, Hagenbuch understands and values the bonds formed with his many customers and clients.
The effort he has put into providing good service has enriched his own life.
"You develop lifelong relationships," he said.