2021 Navigator: Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. powers through an uncertain year

A 2020 ski season was never guaranteed for Steamboat Resort. When COVID-19 hit Routt County near the end of the 2019-20 season, the resort abruptly shut down, along with restaurants, bars and nearly every other business deemed nonessential.

The next fall, Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. unveiled a long list of safety rules and precautions to ensure the resort could stay open, as skiing and riding took place outdoors and were deemed low-transmission activities. It was an effort not only to keep the resort in good fiscal shape but to keep Routt County’s overall economy afloat, along with providing locals and visitors with options for activities while concerts, bars and most indoor activities were out of the question.

“We started having those conversations very early,” Ski Corp. President and COO Rob Perlman said. “The only way we were going to get through this season to protect our staff, to protect our community, was to get open and to stay open.”

After discussions between various Ski Corp. employees, government officials and public health experts, the resort unveiled The Trail Forward, a marketing campaign for keeping the resort open while mitigating the virus’ spread.

“It was about giving everyone peace of mind and getting the word out about our expectations and our rules,” said Katie Brown, vice president of sales and marketing for Ski Corp.

In addition to providing a COVID-safe outlet during an uncertain and often stressful time, Ski Corp. ensuring the resort could stay open also benefited local businesses, which rely on visitors in town to sustain their own business models.

“I think many of us don’t even realize how big of a deal their ability to work hard to keep everyone safe through the pandemic was,” said Mark Walker, president of property management company Resort Group. “The genesis of it was that they provided a great ski season and kept everyone safe.”

For Ski Corp.’s determination and success in helping keep Steamboat afloat, they were chosen as the 2021 Navigator Award for Business of the Year.

Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp.’s senior leadership team. Front: Trish Sullivan, vice president of human resources; Katie Brown, vice president of sales and marketing. Back: Roger Levanduski, vice president of finance; Jim Schneider, vice president of skier services, planning and development; Dave Hunter, vice president of operations; Rob Perlman, president and COO; and Rob Spence, vice president of food and beverage. (Courtesy photo)

While navigating a ski season like no other in the midst of a global pandemic, Ski Corp. also accomplished a years-in-the-making, difficult task: bringing Southwest Airlines to the Yampa Valley Regional Airport.

“Bringing that to Hayden was a game changer and is going to continue to change the way air traffic is handled for the future,” Walker said. “That helped all of us make it through a pandemic and what a huge accomplishment.”

Perlman said everything the resort accomplished, notably including providing a way for Ikon pass holders to ski without a reservation, was achieved because of team efforts across the Ski Corp. crew.

“The only way we were going to achieve our goal of getting open and staying open was working with our community and our guests to make that happen, and we were really proud to make that happen,” Perlman said. “As a company and as a resort, the team really stepped up.”

In addition to being one of the largest employers in Routt County and bringing visitors to town, Ski Corp. also gives about $1.5 million to area nonprofits each year. Despite losing business in 2020 due to the pandemic, the resort was still able to donate $500,000 to the Yampa River Fund, the largest cash donation in the resort’s history.

“The list goes on and on and on in regards to the major contributions that (Steamboat Resort) makes financially,” said PJ Wharton, president and CEO of Yampa Valley Bank. “Their leadership is also involved with so many boards of nonprofits.”

The community exists as it does because of the visitors Ski Corp. brings to town, Wharton said.

“People have a love-hate relationship with that, but the bottom line is, if we didn’t have people coming to our community, we would not have these amazing services that we all love and enjoy,” he added.

Sarah Jones, sustainability and community engagement director with Ski Corp., said the resort donates to environmental groups because of the connection between outdoor recreation and taking care of natural resources.

“We talk about what we can do as part of resort ops to minimize use of energy, health, water, all of those things that fall into the use of natural resources and how we can minimize our impact,” Jones said.

While its largest donation went to the Yampa River Fund, Steamboat Resort also donates to various other organizations, including United Way, the Yampa Valley Community Foundation, Partners in Routt County, LiftUp of Routt County and the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, through resort access, donations and scholarships for Winter Sports Club athletes.

Partners in Routt County Executive Director Michelle Petix said Ski Corp. provides lift tickets for mentors and mentees involved in the nonprofit each year. That, she said, is incredibly beneficial for many of the kids Partners works with who cannot afford to ski on their own.

“When a ski area is in your face like that, we would never want a kid’s sense of value to be tied into their parents’ income,” Petix said. “They’re one of the corporations out there who has been a solid partner with us.”

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