Ski area serves up local beef

— Skiers who bite into burgers at Steamboat Ski Area this season might not know it, but they will be eating local beef bought through a program designed to keep Yampa Valley ranchers in business.

Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. has agreed to buy all the ground beef for use at restaurants at the resort from Yampa Valley Beef, an organization that buys, processes and markets beef for member ranchers.

The resort will pay a premium for the beef, and Yampa Valley Beef hopes the extra money will help keep the ranches economically viable. Healthy ranches will fend of commercial development and help preserve open space in the valley, said Ed Meagher, president of Yampa Valley Beef.

''Here's a company that is willing to take a hit to its bottom line in order to support local ranchers,'' Meagher said.

Steamboat Ski Area will buy about 14,000 pounds of home-grown beef from Yampa Valley Beef over the next 12 months, paying 69 to 79 cents a pound more than wholesale prices, Meagher said. Ground beef now sells for about a dollar a pound wholesale, he said.

Meagher said both his group and the resort hope the contract will be extended indefinitely.

Diners won't see any increase in prices because of the arrangement, said Michael Lane, Steamboat Ski Area's public relations director. Lane could not say how much the deal would affect the resort's profits but said, ''We're willing to put that hit aside to support the local ranchers and the ranching heritage.''

Meagher said the extra money will cover Yampa Valley Beef's processing costs and give the ranchers an additional 10 to 15 percent over what they would get if they sold their cattle to a commercial beef processor. Yampa Valley Beef's processing costs are higher than large commercial beef processors' because their output is smaller, he said.

Several Steamboat Springs restaurants and a grocery store also buy beef from the group, Meagher said, and he hopes other resorts will join in.

''If we could secure four or five more resorts, it could make ranching more viable here in the Yampa Valley,'' he said.

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