Is skiing going downhill?

Pardon the pun, but that's what a number of recent studies would have us believe: that the ski industry is at best a no-growth proposition and at worst is sliding away.If the pundits are right, it's not good news for Utah and other states whose economies are closely tied to ski tourism.

But hold on. Now comes John F. Rooney Jr., professor of geography at Oklahoma State University, who says regions of the country containing many of America's most famous ski resorts - with Utah well represented - are growing as much as 2 1/2 times faster than the overall U.S. economy.

Rooney was commissioned by Snow Country magazine to take a look at what has happened to areas that are home to major ski resorts. His study, "Snow Country: An Analysis of Ancilary Economic Growth - 1977-1987," contradicts the idea that skiing is a non-growth activity.

His findings were presented last week at the National Ski Areas Association's 28th Annual National Convention and Trade Show in Anaheim, Calif.

"Contary to popular belief," said Snow Country Editor John Fry, "Dr. Rooney's study shows that the ski-based economy is growing and is having an impact as well on the growth of widely scattered sections of the country . . .."

Traditionally, the ski industry has viewed its market by such measures as skier-days and equipment imports. Rooney's study claims to be the first attempt to measure such aspects of the ski economy as population growth, housing, retail sales, real estate and employment growth in counties containing nearly half of the total U.S. ski lift capacity.

Rooney equates snow country with 41 counties that have lift capacities in excess of 15,000 skiers-per-hour. After identifying the prime snow country counties, Rooney developed a classification system based on growth rates between 1977 and 1987.

A point system derived from changes in population, retail sales, housing units, real estate activity, lodging, and eating and drinking revenue was utilized to divide snow country into four segments.

These include a group of eight counties Rooney categorized as "Super Dynamic" - in which he includes Summit County, home of Park City, Deer Valley and Park West resorts - that epitomize the explosive growth generated by "a combination of skiing, spectacular natural settings and a growing preference for upscale rural lifestyles."

Close behind in terms of growth are a group of eleven counties classified as "Dynamic" that have much in common with the elite eight. That group is followed by "High Growth" - that list includes Salt Lake County with Snowbird, Alta, Brighton and Solitude resorts - and, finally, "Mature" areas.

High Growth counties, he said, have expanded at rates above national norms. Mature counties have performed both below and above the U.S. economy due to widely varying factors.

According to the study, the eight fastest growing counties and their ski areas are: Summit, Utah (Dear Valley, Park City, Park West); Summit, Colo. (Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Keystone/Arapahoe, Keystone Mountain); Teton, Wyo. (Jackson Hole, Grand Targhee, Snow King); Nevada, Calif. (Boreal, Donner Ski Ranch, Northstar at Tahoe, Soda Springs, Sugar Bowl, Tahoe Donner); Mono, Calif. (June Mountain, Mammoth Mountain); Eagle, Colo. (Beaver Creek, Vail); Placer, Calif. (Alpine Meadow, Granlibakken, Homewood, Squaw Valley); and Routt, Colo. (Howelson Hill, Steamboat).