Sunday closed the books on a winter local skiers and riders won't soon forget. Almost 500 inches of snow fell on mid-mountain from October through this past weekend, marking the highest total recorded since the Steamboat Ski Area began tracking snowfall in the winter of 1979-80.
Big snow drives tourism, and Steamboat Springs and the Yampa Valley could reap the benefits of this winter for several seasons to come. That's something we can all celebrate.
But the winter of 2007-08 wasn't without tragedy. Two visiting skiers and riders died within 10 days of one another, a tragic result of the depth of snow on Mount Werner.
We think Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. officials had tragedy prevention in mind when they made an effort to curtail the unruly, sometimes dangerous behavior of skiers and riders on closing weekend.
Ski Corp. closed upper-mountain lifts at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, and the rest of the lifts shut down at 3 p.m. Ski Corp. security personnel and Steamboat Springs Police Department officers took a zero-tolerance approach to illegal drinking and inappropriate behavior. Gondola riders were subject to clothing, backpack and hydration pack checks as they boarded the lift, and police and community service officers roamed the base of Headwall during annual closing weekend festivities such as the Cardboard Classic. Violators were threatened with loss of skiing privileges for the 2008-09 season.
Ski Corp. has good reason to take such steps this year. Recent closing day weekends, as well as the traditional April 1 "Gaper Day," have seen uncontrolled on-mountain drinking and the resulting reports of assaults and injuries, not to mention numerous complaints from visitors and residents about disrespectful behavior.
There are some who undoubtedly will complain about the increased control of a weekend typically embraced by local skiers and riders. Those critics often cite the good old days of events such as the Ball Hooter Classic or the original Cardboard Classic, which was done in loose cooperation with Ski Corp., not controlled by it. Times have changed, they say.
They're right. But more to the point is the dangerous extremes to which some skiers and riders have made a habit of reaching on closing weekend. It's a shame the actions of a relative minority force changes that impact everyone else. But we can't blame Ski Corp. for wanting to rein in such reckless behavior. In fact, we support its efforts to increase safety.
But we also think Ski Corp. should have taken it one step further. If ski area officials really are concerned about inappropriate behavior and excessive drinking, they could have set the tone by closing on-mountain bars last weekend. Skiers and riders intent on drinking still would have been able to do so at any number of base area establishments, but not in Ski Corp.'s on-mountain facilities, from which celebrating skiers still had to descend to the base on any number of crowded ski trails. Such a decision would have exemplified an even more convincing commitment to customer safety.
As it was, the first Springalicious festival is something worth building upon. The live music was entertaining, the pond skimming competition provided a new twist to closing weekend, and the crackdown on illegal drinking and unruly behavior brought out a number of families who otherwise might have stayed home. All in all, it was a positive end to a spectacular season.