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SAM Magazine—Steamboat Springs, Colo., Sept. 15, 2023—The thirteenth SAM Summer Ops Camp drew ski area and aerial adventure operators, experts, and suppliers from all over North America to Steamboat, Sept. 10-12, for three days of learning, networking, and hands-on fun in the name of growing non-winter business. SOC HN

The host resort provided attendees with a variety of unique perspectives on summer business, most notably the choice to remove some of its existing summer attractions—including a mountain coaster and mini golf course—as part of its major redevelopment called “Full Steam Ahead” to, in part, reimagine summer business starting with a clean slate. Steamboat leadership shared lessons learned from these decisions throughout camp, including the importance of considering your brand when adding non-winter attractions and how those attractions must not conflict with the winter guest experience.

The Steamboat team also took full advantage of having a group of other operators, experts, and suppliers on-hand to inform its next steps.

“We’re working on what’s next for our summer operations—and we’re looking forward to spending time with this group to help us figure that out,” said Steamboat president and COO Rob Perlman during his presentation after the opening night dinner. Joining in on the festivities that night was the affable Olympian and ski racer Billy Kidd, who serves as Steamboat’s director of skiing and spent the evening hobnobbing with his many fans in attendance.

One of the more unique experiences campers witnessed was a drone show from Open Sky that lit up the night. In honor of Steamboat’s 60th anniversary, a choreographed presentation culminated with drones forming the SAM and Steamboat logos in the sky above Steamboat Square. The drone demo highlighted for operators an alternative to fireworks.

In between networking events, hands-on activities like mountain biking, e-bike demos, guided hikes, and tours of Steamboat’s fantastical Greenhorn Ranch learning area, several educational sessions informed campers of the latest trends and considerations in summer operations.


The unprecedented amount of capital improvements happening at ski areas across North America prompted a session on the considerations of balancing major construction projects with the ability to deliver great guest experiences. Steamboat’s Dave Hunter and Jenn Shea along with Steve Hoxie from Taos Ski Valley, N.M., shared lessons learned and useful takeaways from their experiences undergoing multi-year capital projects at their respective resorts.

Claire Humber of SE Group led a session that explored what defines success for resort operators and shared a surprisingly broad gamut of answers to that question from leaders of ski areas big and small—from sustainable business and allowing guests to enjoy the natural environment to increasing year-round brand awareness, retaining year-round staff, and much more. Humber passed the mic to CLIMB Works Design owner Nick Thompson (operator and builder of several adventure parks), who shared his perspective on what defines success for his operations—and what he thinks other adventure operations should consider: ensuring there’s something to do for the entire family, especially kids aged 7 and under.

Eric Lipton from SNOW Operating led an interactive—and energetic—session that included an exercise in which campers broke into groups to map out the ideal summer guest experience. The groups came up with useful takeaways that will help in planning and improving the guest journey in the non-winter months.

Insights Collective’s Ralf Garrison and Barb Taylor Carpender, along with Jon Stavney of Northwest Colorado Council of Governments and Steamboat director of social responsibility Sarah Jones, discussed our changing mountain communities. The group implored operators to be actively involved in their local communities and provided a better understanding of the current push and pull between residents and visitors and concerns around over tourism.

An in-depth discussion on how to capture the summer market was facilitated by Origin’s MJ Legault and SAM’s Olivia Rowan, who engaged a panel comprised of SNOW Partners CMO Hugh Reynolds, Steamboat VP of sales and marketing Katie Brown, and Viator’s Max Key. While there is no silver bullet, one key takeaway was that ski areas must spend more time considering the “dreaming” and researching phase—when travelers have decided they want to go on a trip but haven’t chosen where to go—of the pre-visit experience in order to provide clarity to would-be guests and make their decision to visit an easier one.

Finally, NSAA director of regulatory affairs Dave Byrd made his Summer Ops Camp debut, leading a session about risk management in summer operations. Supported by Tim Bruce and Colin Russell from Safehold Special Risk, the discussion explored several cautionary tales and left operators with a clearer view of what should be done to better address risk management.

In other news, Mountain Creek, N.J., won “The Great Glamping Giveaway,” a raffle of $50,000 worth of glamping equipment, courtesy of EJH Distribution. Monte Hansen from Yellowstone Club, Mont., won a prize pack from Intense Cycles.

Many of the insights and takeaways from the sessions at Summer Ops Camp will be available as articles in SAM Magazine and on PodSAM. 

Stay tuned for the location of next year’s Summer Ops Camp. Thanks to all who attended this year. We had a blast.