Rocky Mountain high
By EDITOR John Nielsen REPORTER H. John Steinbreder

(FORTUNE Magazine) – The U.S. ski industry is schussing blithely through a record season. According to the National Ski Areas Association, some 60 million lift tickets will be sold this year, up from a previous high of 51.4 million last season. Ski Industries America, the equipment manufacturers' trade group, predicts that ski shop sales will reach $1.3 billion, topping the old record of $1.07 billion two years ago. ''This is a vintage year for the ski business,'' says Cal Conniff, president of the Ski Areas Association. ''Areas from coast to coast are doing well.'' The weather has certainly helped. Snow has been plentiful, and even when skies have been clear, temperatures have been low enough for ski areas to make artificial snow. Just as important, the industry is cashing in on a strong economy and a lucrative demographic bulge. Says Jeff Palmer, a spokesman for Ski Industries America: ''The baby-boomers and their children are all going skiing together. We have seen a tremendous increase in sales for children's equipment. And ski areas are again promoting the sport as a family activity, expanding facilities for children.'' Still, there are some rough patches lurking in the powder. Since last fall, liability insurance rates have more than doubled on average -- and jumped over 400% in a few instances. Some small areas have been forced out of business; others have absorbed the costs at the expense of profits. Many, however, have passed the costs on to their customers. That tactic may work in good times, but it could come back to haunt the resorts if times get tough again.