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Ski tour convention could snowball

Sally J. Taylor

Today the top ski tour operators in the United States – members of the Ski Tour Operators Association, or SKITOPS – will converge on the South Shore for Network 1998 to meet with suppliers and get a first-hand taste of what Lake Tahoe skiing has to offer.

“(The delegates) will be deciding what they want to sell in their 1998-99 catalogs and package programs. It really helps to showcase the Tahoe experience,” said Jan Vandermade, director of sales for Heavenly Ski Resort and president of the board of directors for Ski Lake Tahoe, whose members include ski resorts around the lake. “This is a great opportunity to showcase the community to wholesalers and skiing couldn’t be better.”

The SKITOPS Network will bring about 200 people for the convention at Harveys Resort Hotel/Casino where they will spend two days meeting with suppliers and enjoy two days of Tahoe skiing.

“Once a year we come together with our allied suppliers – the companies we do business with such as ski resorts, car rentals, lodging and condominium property groups – to exchange contracts and network in other business fashions,” said SKITOPS Planner David Tanner.

Besides meetings, they will be networking at lunches, parties, on the Tahoe Queen and on the slopes. Both Heavenly and Squaw Valley USA will host ski days this weekend.

Tahoe has a lot to offer tour operators, said Kathleen Farrell, the executive director of the Tahoe-Douglas Chamber of Commerce and president of Reno-Tahoe Territory.

“Tour operators love to use a hub-and-spokes approach. With South Lake Tahoe as the hub,” the Tahoe area provides a variety of activities for long vacations for skiers and others from the budget conscious to first-class getaways, Farrell said.

Pitching Tahoe to this particular group of tour operators could have a far-reaching impact on South Shore tourism.

The standards for membership in SKITOPS is very high, SKITOPS’ Tanner said.

Requirements include at least five years as a ski tour operator and $130,000 to $150,000 of ski packages booked each year totaling at least 10,000 skier days.

In the past, the annual Network convention has alternated between Salt Lake City and Denver.

This year, the time was right to come to Tahoe.

“Tahoe is growing in popularity with winter sports,” said Monte Deemer, national sales manager for Harveys, who worked closely with Tanner to organize the convention. “This is an excellent opportunity for all Tahoe to have tour operators and wholesalers experience Tahoe first hand.”

If they like what they see, they could put Lake Tahoe into the rotation, according to Chuck Maas from Lake Tahoe Accommodations. Maas helped pitch the lake to the convention organizers.

“It’s one of the most significant marketing events that’s ever happened to the ski industry in South Lake Tahoe,” Maas said many times in recent weeks as he made the rounds of business meetings to build support. “Colorado and Utah have had this event in their pocket.

“It’s one of those snowballs. Once it starts rolling downhill it gets bigger and bigger.”

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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