Let me provide my take on the entire issue as to the state of the ski industry and how this ties into this week’s passage of Referendum 2B.
I am very concerned that what I perceive to be the current economic model of the ski and tourism industry in our town badly is broken. The mere fact that an industry that is now almost 50 years old requires this type of subsidy in the first place underscores a very significant systemic problem.
Part of the problem is the fact that the industry as a whole went from one that catered to the elite — certainly not entirely, but substantially — in the 1940s and ’50s to a much more “everyman” clientele in the ’60s and ’70s and now back to an industry that caters again to the elite. If you do not think that is the case, just consider the price of an out-of-town family of four to spend a week in Steamboat during the ski season. Also, consider the growth we have noted in the local summer tourism trade, which really brings a more well-rounded class of individuals, from an economic point of view.
But for the unexpected and one-time addition of snowboarding to the landscape of the industry, which brought in a newer generation of consumers, all of these trends would be much more pronounced at this time. An aging community — local and tourist — creates its own set of challenges.
Studies tend to show that the younger generations are far less interested in second-home ownership than the baby boomers. Obviously, none of this is dispositive, and this trend (if true) in part actually might be better than worse for the overall local economy. However, I suspect that this circumstance will put more pressure on businesses to perform in the ski season because the anticipated dropoffs during the mud season and the fall are going to be more — not less — pronounced as years go by. Further, because skiing and snowboarding are sports more for younger persons than for those as they move from their 50s into their 60s and 70s, an inability to attract younger individuals into our community whether by jobs or tourist dollars is a source of concern.
Had Referendum 2B not passed, I suspect all of this instability would have been exposed sooner rather than later. Considering the economic circumstance in which we currently find ourselves, that would not have been a pleasant thing. However, make no mistake. Referendum 2B at best needs to be looked at as a Band-Aid — and nothing more. If a collective approach by the ski mountain, our local hotel and restaurant community, the city and county, etc., does not start implementing meaningful examination of all of these trends, not even Referendum 2B in the long run is going to save this economic patient. Solutions that might have been appropriate in the 1990s are not going to solve any of these long-term systemic issues. Referendum 2B buys time — literally and figuratively. It solves absolutely nothing.