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Graying of ski towns studied in Steamboat

Allen Best

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS ” The graying of ski towns across the West would be a surprise only to Rip Van Winkle.

Through the 1990s, the biggest jump in proportionate population growth rates in Breckenridge, Vail, and many other places was in the 60-plus age bracket. Younger people were still more common, but they ceased being the overwhelming majority.

Now, in the 21st century, the bulge is becoming even more conspicuous as baby boomers within ski towns get ever more gray hair while baby boomers from elsewhere begin to retire to ski towns. This trend is being noted in Steamboat Springs, where the retirement-age population is increasing at a rate six times the national average.

Meanwhile, the population of Gen-Xers is not growing nearly as fast, and, in fact, might be declining. For a number of years school enrollment in Steamboat Springs and even its bedroom communities has been lagging.

While there was a slight growth this year in one of the bedroom areas, near Oak Creek and Yampa, the same general trend holds true. Gen Xers from many ski towns seemed to have moved to the cities rather than endure the great expense of raising families in an expensive resort environment.

Steamboat Springs continue to grapple with the implications of these demographic wrinkles. A city planner, Tom Leeson, told a local newspaper, The Steamboat Pilot, that a task force on growth is looking at the rate of growth, why it is occurring, whether it is a problem and what tools the community is using or can use to help manage it.

In looking at the graying of Steamboat, the local task force wonders whether one consequence will be a less vibrant community. Don’t get the wrong idea here ” gray-haired people in ski towns are by no means somnambulant sorts. Leisure for many is 100 days of skiing each winter, not a rocking chair.

But, for the most part, they are having a good time, not engaged in running a community.

In Steamboat, answers are not yet clear, but the task force is reported to be considering what can be done to encourage a more year-round employment base, which may keep younger, child-bearing people in town.

Vail Colorado


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