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Steamboat resort critiqued

Ski area not so pedestrian friendly, consultant says

Christine Metz

— Steamboat Springs received a critique Thursday night as a mountain resort consultant talked of poor pedestrian access and of sending mixed messages.

The future of Steamboat was the topic of a night panel session in the second day of the international conference Mountain Resort Planning and Development in an Era of Globalization.

Sherry Dorward, a Vail landscape architect who was a consultant for Steamboat’s Mountain Sub Area Plan, pointed to the lack of predestination at the ski area’s base area and sending a message to skiers that is not a reality in Steamboat.

Steamboat Springs City Councilwoman Arianthe Stettner discussed the past 10 years of Steamboat’s success in forming partnerships. And Park City planner Myles Rademan warned that like failed ancient civilizations, resorts could build more than they could sustain.

Dorward called Steamboat’s base area the worst in the state, criticizing the lack of pedestrian crossings and its complicated layout.

“At a public meeting, a retailer once said if anybody comes into my store and asks for directions, I take him by the hand and show him,” she said to the crowd mixed with Steamboat residents and planners, consultants, elected officials and academics from all over the world.

She pointed out the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel’s separateness from the rest of the base area because of a four-lane road, not enough sidewalks and blocked access for retail to go on the ground floor. Even along Denver’s busy Larimer Street, she said, there are two lanes.

She said pedestrian-friendly streetscapes are crucial for resort towns and warned the competition is willing to do renovations to their streets and many are in the process of creating new villages.

But Doward also noted Steamboat’s predicament in making upgrades to the base area without the backing of the owner of the ski mountain. And she said elected officials have a difficult choice in deciding if they want to spend money on upgrading facilities for the residents or beautify the streets for the visitors.

“It is $10 million here or $10 million there and we don’t have $10 million anywhere,” she said of the plight in resort towns.

On a positive note, Dorward said unlike other resort communities that were founded on mining before skiing, Steamboat is a community where people anticipated putting down roots, and it does have one of the strongest senses of community among Colorado resorts.

“If anybody has a chance to answer the question ‘Can we be a resort and a community?’ I think it may be here. Because you have a strong sense of community already,” Dorward said.

Dorward also said Steamboat’s Western culture gives the town and the tourists who visit it an authenticity that many towns do not have. She compared it to Breckenridge and Telluride, which she called “Victorian Theme Parks.”

But she warned Steamboat sends a misleading marketing message. She told the story of her 13-year-old son, who saw an old poster of Billy Kidd in heavy snow with his skis tied to a horse, which was taken in front of a rustic barn. It convinced him to come to Steamboat, but once her son arrived, he never saw any barns.

“There is a terrible disconnectedness of the image that you make and the image when you get here,” she said. “What is the bigger vision of this town and what does the town want to be in particular in regards to tourism?”


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