Grabbing hold of the market

Snowboarders, innovations in ski equipment boost industry

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Larry Pierce/Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.

Steamboat snowboarder Spencer Tamblyn enjoys Champagne Powder at the Steamboat Ski Area.

— National Ski Areas Association President Michael Berry credits the revolution of winter recreation equipment as a major reason for the strong momentum the ski industry is experiencing.

"Snowboarding, at least from our perspective, was a gift," Berry said during a talk Wednesday at the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel.

Berry was one of the speakers at last week's eighth annual Airline Partners' Summit, hosted by Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. It was attended by more than 90 executives from half a dozen airlines that play a crucial role in the success of the Steamboat Ski Area.

"It's about airline seats, and then pillows being the second biggest factor," said Andy Wirth, Ski Corp. vice president of sales and marketing. Passengers booked year-to-date are up 11 percent, meaning, "we're on a record pace for the Steamboat/Hayden airport," Wirth said.

Ron Schlotthauer, director of air service development at Denver International Airport, also spoke at the summit about how America's fastest growing airport is evolving, and how more flights are being added.

The additional flights, particularly to destination ski areas such as Steamboat, play an important role in the growth of the ski industry, Berry said. There are a lot of other trends that are favorable for the industry, such as changes in equipment.

The 2005-06 ski season was a record-setter, with 58.9 million skier visits. Berry predicts that number will hit the upper 60 million range in the next 20 years, even though the number of ski areas likely will remain constant. There currently are about 480 ski resorts in the United States.

"There is more excitement in the industry then there ever has been - at least since I've been in it, and that's since I was 14," Berry said.

The popularity of snowboards may have leveled off, with about 30 percent of people on the mountain riding them today. But new equipment such as twin-tip skis is keeping the sport fresh and attracting a younger demographic.

Ski areas were too reliant on aging, upper-income baby boomer skiers, and there needed to be an effort to broaden appeal.

The solution was to "relax the rules, embrace the growth of winter recreation in many forms, cater to youths, snowboarders and anyone else who wants to recreate in the mountains," Berry said.

Ski areas for the most part have done that, he said, noting there are only four ski areas in the United States that allow only skiing.

Evolutions in equipment might attract more people to the sport in the future, but Berry recognizes another trend for the strength of the ski industry. The sport is becoming multigenerational, and more families are using ski vacations for reunions.

"It's the place where people come to gather once a year or twice a year to have these special moments," Berry said.

- To reach Matt Stensland, call 871-4210

or e-mail mstensland@steamboatpilot.com

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