Scholarship Day brings smiles to many faces

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The snow falling from the sky Tuesday afternoon put smiles on lots of faces across Steamboat Springs.

For skiers looking to lay down the first tracks of the season, the smiles are prompted by thoughts of fresh powder. For Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club athletes, the smiles mark the end of long trips to resorts in Summit County for on-snow training. And for area retailers, the smiles come from the anticipated return of tourist business.

But no smile was bigger Tuesday than the one plastered across the face of Rick DeVos, the Winter Sports Club's executive director.

For him, the falling snow means more money in the Winter Sports Club's scholarship coffer and the ability to continue to help nearly 60 families a year through the club's Scholarship Fund.

"Traditionally, if it snows the day before the ski area opens, it results in a record Scholarship Day," DeVos said Tuesday morning. "This is shaping up to be a pretty good year."

Good because for more than a decade the Steamboat Ski Area has donated all the proceeds from reduced-price, opening-day ticket sales to the Winter Sports Club's Scholarship Fund, which was established in 1974. Last year's total of $49,800 was a record, and the fresh snow falling Tuesday promised another good year. This year, Scholarship Day lift tickets are $15 each.

"This is a very important day for us," said Mike Lane, the Steamboat Ski Area's director of public relations. "Scholarship Day is the perfect way to help kids who can't afford to ski to become a part of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club's programs. It's also a fun way to kick off the season."

The opening-day sales have generated $324,000 for the Winter Sports Club in the past 12 years and have averaged $27,000 per year.

"You will not find another resort in Colorado that gives back as much to the community as the Steamboat Ski Area has committed over the past decade," DeVos said. "The club could not operate without the continued support of the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. It's one of the club's primary contributors."

In addition to supporting Scholarship Day, the ski area provides the club with lift tickets, season passes, early on-snow training, race crew resources and hosts numerous races in a variety of disciplines throughout the season. The ski area hosts the Winter Sports Club's Ski Ball, which is another huge boost to the club's financial health.

DeVos said the recent snow is a blessing, and is happy that the club likely will enjoy another great Scholarship Day.

But despite the good years, the director is haunted by those years when the snow doesn't come, the skiers are not eager to get back on the mountain, and the number of people who show up for Scholarship Day drops. He knows that the families in the club have come to expect the annual scholarships no matter what conditions are like when the ski area opens.

"I can remember our worst year, when people were still playing golf on Scholarship Day," DeVos said. "We still had to find a way to provide the scholarships the next year."

Luckily for DeVos, there haven't been a lot of those years. But with the numbers of athletes in the club rising to nearly 800 this year, he knows the demand for financial support is only going to grow.

"The snow doesn't really change how we do things," DeVos said. "We still give out the same number of scholarships in good years and bad years."

The club has had to take a very sensible approach to handing out money to its skiers, he said. That means resisting the urge to give out extra money in the good years, saving it instead for the more forgettable opening days.

"We base the scholarships we award on need," DeVos said. "We rarely pay 100 percent of a family's fees -- we want them to have some ownership in the process."

Families can apply for the scholarships in August or December. The amount each skier receives varies depending on need.

Programs at the Winter Sports Club range from $80 to $4,000 a year. With program fees, travel expenses and entry fees, some skiers in the club are paying up to $15,000 per season to compete.

The Scholarship Fund, fed by Scholarship Day and the Moose is Loose golf tournament, was created to help defray those costs.

-- To reach John F. Russell call 871-4209

or e-mail jrussell@steamboatpilot.com

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