Mountain Town News
By Allen Best
Good time to squeeze a buck
LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Lodges in ski towns are getting fuller even if hoteliers aren’t necessarily getting richer as tourists continue to shop for bargains.
At Incline Village, on the north shore side of Lake Tahoe, bookings are tracking up 10 to 1 5 percent compared to last year at Vacation Station, a collection of 100 cabins, condominiums and rental homes. Reservations had dipped 35 to 40 percent two years ago.
But profits have lagged, says Don Cauley, general manager. “We are giving up revenue in order to get people to come back,” he tells the Northern Nevada Business Weekly. “We are nowhere near where we were two or three years ago.”
Snowfall will probably push or drag the rate of recovery.
Snow is already part of the equation at Steamboat Springs, Colo., where the ski area going into Thanksgiving had received one-third as much as was received all of last winter.
With snow on their side and the economy edging forward, Steamboat ski officials hope for a strong winter. The Steamboat Pilot reports that local government officials aren’t so sure.
They assume fewer sales tax collections because there will be 11 percent fewer available passenger seats on incoming flights. Fewer seats are available this winter because the community had to cut back on its revenue guarantees — the result of having to pay out to cover guarantees during the last two winters, when fewer people were flying.
The Aspen Times reports that lodges there continue to sweeten their deals. The Little Nell hotel, a high-profile, high-rent property operated by the Aspen Skiing Co., is offering free lift tickets and extra nights. The St. Regis Aspen also offers add-ons.
“I think everybody is out there looking for a deal, even those that don’t need a deal,” said John Speers, general manager of the Little Nell.
The average daily rate for rooms booked by Stay Aspen Snowmass fell from $440 two winters ago to $383 last winter, mostly because of free days tacked onto multi-day deals.
The average daily rate charged by hotels in mountain resorts of the West dropped 9 percent two winters ago and 6 percent last season, according to the Mountain Travel Research Program.
Many apply, few are chosen
WHISTLER, B.C. – Job openings are scarce going into ski season at Whistler.
Pique Newsmagazine reports 300 people waiting in freezing temperatures in pursuit of the 20 jobs at a food-and-beverage business called Garfinkel’s.
At the Garibaldi Lift Co., 600 people were interviewed for 17 available positions, with just five minutes per interview. “It was a bit of a ‘gong show’ that day,” said manager Derek Pretty.
Snowpack may drop 40-60%
LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – A new study by scientists at the University of California, Davis attempts to provide a glimpse of the changing climate for Lake Tahoe Basin during the next 90 years.
The study notes that there may be just as much precipitation, maybe even more. But in some years, all of it may come in the form of rain. Altogether, snowpack may decline 40-60% on average. Runoff may occur six weeks earlier.
“While there is always some uncertainty when projecting this far into the future, the results appear reasonable,” said John Reuter, associate director of the Tahoe Environmental Research Center, an operation of the university. The $260,000 study, paid for by federal land agencies, provides environmental managers and scientists with their first detailed glimpse of the potential impact of climate change on precipitation runoff, water quality and plant and animal resources in Lake Tahoe, Reuter said.
Casino bans the butts
KETCHUM, Idaho – Ketchum’s last — and oldest — bar has succumbed to the marketplace and banned smoking.
The Casino went into business in 1920, 16 years before Averill Harriman’s Union Pacific Railroad created North America’s first destination ski resort.
A bartender tells the Idaho Mountain Express that the smoking was driving away too many customers. To announce the ban, the bar placed posters on the wall alongside images of a stern-looking Arnold Schwarzenegger. The action movie icon and outgoing California governor, who’s also a frequent Ketchum/Sun Valley visitor, has a well-known fondness for stogies.
Airports upgrade for new jets
ASPEN, Colo. – Airports in both Aspen and Telluride expect to be capable of handling a new generation of planes by this time next year.
In Aspen, the runway will be expanded by 1,000 feet next summer at a cost of $14.5 million. Airport officials tell The Aspen Times they are confident of funding by the Federal Aviation Administration, which normally pays 95% of such expansions, using taxes collected on passengers, freight and jet fuel.
Resort and airport officials have long wanted the extension, as it will allow planes to take off with more weight, crucial in summer, when the warm air forces planes to carry fewer passengers. But this will also make the airport accessible to more types of regional jets.
At Telluride, the airport runway has been leveled and lengthened at a cost of $50 million. Now, the terminal must be expanded to allow waiting room for passengers going through security.
Also being considered at Telluride is whether commercial flights can be allowed after dark to as late as 10 p.m.
Jail has too few customers
EAGLE, Colo. – In 2008, when Eagle County commissioners voted to spend nearly $33 million to expand the jail by a third, to accommodate 120 prisoners, the curve lines all showed an uphill slope.
A report in the Vail Daily suggests that there were an average of 96 prisoners then. But this year there have been an average of 58. The commissioners are closing the jail until business picks up.
“We were housing an average of 20 prisoners per day outside the county,” explains Commissioner Peter Runyon of the decision in 2008 to build the jail expansion.
“Will we need it (the added prison cells and beds) at some point in the future? You betcha,” he said. “In two years or less, we may have to reopen it.”
The newspaper seems to disagree on the economics of the deal, however. It points out that prisoners could be out-sourced to other jails for 27 years before the cost of doing so would catch up with cost of jail construction. That, however, assumes no growth in number of prisoners, which would defy a 50-year trend.
Vail still at top end
VAIL, Colo. – Top lift-ticket price honors this year — at least until Aspen decides what it will charge — go to Vail. The company is charging $99 per day for the ski area’s walk-up customers during Christmas Week, Presidents’ Weekend, and the weeks of spring break. At other times, the rate will be $94.
Aspen, reports The Aspen Times, might match or beat that price, given that it will charge $192 for a two-day ticket. Presumably, the one-day ticket will be a smidgeon higher.
Jeff Hanle, the company’s spokesman, said single-day lift ticket account for about 10 percent of sales revenue per season at the company’s four ski areas.
Other one-day prices, as compiled by the Times, are: Telluride, $98; Steamboat $97; Deer Valley, $94; and Sun Valley $94.