Our View: Ski ranks merit consideration | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: Ski ranks merit consideration

— The first signs of winter were unmistakable over the past two weeks: measurable snowfall in the valley, frost on our car windshields for consecutive mornings and the release of ski area rankings from national ski magazines.

Although it’s easy to celebrate or denigrate Steamboat Ski Area’s reputation as measured by Ski Magazine subscribers, for one, there is significance to how at least one segment of the skiing public perceives our resort and our community. More important, it’s a reminder for our community that we can never be complacent about the quality of product we offer our out-of-town guests.

To be sure, Steamboat Ski Area continually ranks among the best North American ski resorts. Ski Magazine’s annual survey of its subscribers placed Steamboat at No. 10 as we enter the 2009-10 winter. Our highest ranking in the past decade was fifth (2004), and it’s been an up-and-down ride between eighth and 11th since that year.

But as the skiing market tightens and competition for the limited pool of ski vacationers heats up, our perception in the skiing community takes on even greater significance. It’s important to note that how our guests perceive Steamboat isn’t solely a reflection of their experience at Steamboat Ski Area.

Apres ski, dining, service, lodging and off-hill activities are important components to a ski vacation that involve more than Ski Corp. efforts. And terrain, weather, scenery, access, value and snow – all of which are factors in Ski Magazine’s survey – also are largely out of Ski Corp.’s control. The survey categories that fall almost exclusively on Ski Corp.’s shoulders are grooming, lifts, on-mountain food, family programs and terrain parks.

As the magazine noted in its most recent survey results, some readers marked Steamboat down because of the extent of base-area redevelopment and construction. Because private development is contingent on market circumstances, the community and Ski Corp. wind up with little control over when those needed projects are complete. Nonetheless, it’s encouraging that Urban Renewal Authority public improvement projects are continuing, and there has been progress in navigation around the base area, including the revamped Gondola Transit Center and the construction of roundabouts on Mount Werner Circle and Ski Time Square Drive.

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Visitors’ perception of an empty, non-vibrant base area probably won’t change for many years. So what can we do to alter those negative perceptions? Focusing on efforts such as service go a long way toward making a guest’s trip memorable. Last year, the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association began its Spurs on Service program, a good step toward stressing the importance of good service for our guests. The Chamber’s focus on service and guest experience began with its Steamboat Genuine program, which was initiated several years ago.

Given the significance tourism plays in our local economy, we can’t leave it up to Ski Corp. and the Chamber to improve the quality of the guest experience. Each of us, as residents, employees and employers, must embrace ambassador roles for our resort community. Steps as simple as warm greetings to guests, keeping our storefronts clear of snow and offering friendly advice about how and where our visitors can best enjoy their Steamboat vacation can go a surprisingly long way toward improving the guest experience – and ultimately skiers’ perceptions of Steamboat as a top-notch resort.

We can’t control the economy and the pace of continued redevelopment of downtown Steamboat and the ski area base. We can control other facets of the guest experience, and there’s not a more important time than now to rise to the challenge.

Ski Magazine rankings aren’t the only way to gauge the quality of our resort and the experience vacationers have here, but they are an important reminder that we can never be complacent. That’s a message everyone needs to hear.