Mountain Town News
By Allen Best
Companies wage High Sierra war
TRUCKEE, Calif. – Last week’s announcement of a ski-area takeover at Lake Tahoe really can be seen as competition between two recreational empires based in metropolitan Denver-Boulder.
The owners of Squaw Valley are taking over operations of nearby Alpine Meadows. Although not directly connected, the two resorts collectively will have 6,000 acres. The two resorts are just 10 minutes apart, with just one privately owned acreage separating them.
Squaw Valley was purchased last year by KSL Capital Partners, which is led by several former executives of Vail Resorts, among them Mike Shannon, who directed operations at Vail and Beaver Creek in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and Eric Resnick, who worked at the same company, but a decade later. KSL is now based in Denver.
Vail Resorts also has a strong California presence, with ownership of Heavenly and Northstar-at-Tahoe. Several years ago it moved its corporate headquarters from the Vail area to a suburb of Boulder.
Owning multiple ski areas allows companies to leverage their assets in marketing and season passes. Vail Resorts has various iterations of its Epic Pass, including one that costs $649 and is good at its two California resorts and its four Colorado Resorts, plus Arapahoe Basin. KSL, with its new purchase, is offering a $799 pass good at both of its California resorts.
At stake is not just the 7.5 million people in the San Francisco metropolitan area, but also the potential to peel away domestic – and perhaps international – skiers from other destination resorts, including those in Colorado, Utah and probably British Columbia.
Ralf Garrison, who has been tracking ski tourism for 30-plus years from his headquarters in Denver, used the metaphor of a magnet in an interview with the Sacramento Bee.“Tahoe’s challenge is to build a big enough magnet,” he said. “It needs to attract guests who come farther and stay longer.”
Squaw Valley hosted the Winter Olympics in 1960, but until the last decade not all that much had changed. Colorado investors, however, have been remaking the region. And the Sacramento Bee correctly notices that it’s not just about skiing any more. “It’s more about developing full-service resorts with shopping, restaurants, high-end lodging and other amenities.”
The Bee also portrays the merger of Squaw and Alpine as enhancing Lake Tahoe’s possible bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics. Colorado is also considering whether to make a run at the same target. One public official seemed to think the Bee’s coverage was a little hyper, making out the merger to be “the biggest thing to hit the regional economy since the 1960 Olympics,” but said he is taking a wait-and-see position.
Affordable housing’s Keith Richards?
AVON, Colo. – “Dilapidated” is the word that Eagle County Commissioner Jon Stavney used to describe an affordable housing project from the 1970s.
But Vail Daily staff writer Randy Wyrick used a more frightening image: “If Riverview had been a rock star,” he wrote of the housing project in Eagle-Vail, on the outskirts of Avon, “it would have been Keith Richards’ less careful older brother.”
The project is craggy no more, however, after receiving $17 million in grants for a faceliuft, all of the money coming from the federal government, putting carpenters back to work.
Whistler continues rebound
WHISTLER, B.C. – Coming off its second best summer on record, as measured by economists, Whistler is expecting growth in its winter business.
Visits from the Vancouver area are expected to flatten, but tourism officials expect the destination business to grow as Whistler continues to benefit from its Olympics prominence while coming off a phenomenal snow year. The twin ski areas, Whistler and Blackcomb, recorded 51 feet of snow (15.5 metres), and another La Niña winter should produce more bounty. Whistler expects growth in visitors from the United Kingdom and Australia, and it is also plying Brazil, China, and India. The latter is seen as more of a summer market.
Barrett Fisher, who heads Tourism Whistler, said surveys last year showed many guests indicating they want free access to WiFi – and Whistler hopes to do just that. “It is more and more important that we can give our customers the ability to communicate with their friends and family so they can share the experience,” she told Pique Newsmagazine.
Real estate still slow from last year
VAIL, Colo. – The real estate market has slowed from last year in Vail and the Eagle Valley, according to new sales figures through August.
A report from Land Title shows sales, as measured by total dollar volume, at 80 percent of last year. Total sales for the year should still top $1 billion, but that pales compared with nearly $1.5 billion for Eagle County last year and $2.2 billion in 2008. Still there is some loose change at the very high end, as the $7.1 million sale of a unit in a condominium project in Vail demonstrated.
Colo tries to block uranium mill
TELLURIDE, Colo. – Elected officials in Telluride are trying to block licensing of a uranium processing mill about 50 miles west, in the sandstone country near the Utah border. The town council has retained the legal services of a national public interest law firm, Public Justice.
Through the firm, reports The Telluride Watch, the local government will argue that the proposed Pinion Ridge Uranium Mill poses significant environmental and socioeconomic threats to Telluride and the surrounding region, including the toxic and radioactive contamination of the region’s air and water.
Can ski areas survive sans jets?
HAILEY, Idaho – Will North America’s first destination ski resort remain a destination for all but the select few? That’s the fundamental issue as the Ketchum and Sun Valley community wrangles with its airport limitations.
Sun Valley’s first ski lifts were erected as a way to draw more passengers to J.J. Harriman’s Union Pacific Railroad, but those railroad tracks long ago were torn out. The airport at Hailey, 20 miles from the ski area, is too small to handle the big planes that fly into airports serving Vail, Steamboat and even Aspen.
Now, after several years of looking at potential for a new airport outside the mountains, farther yet from Sun Valley, the Federal Aviation Administration has called a halt, because of rapidly escalating costs and also incursions into the habitat of sage grouse.
The Idaho Mountain Express reports that public officials in Hailey are now contemplating the prospect of an expanded airport – something they had stoutly opposed. But there’s still an option of doing nothing, with the airport continuing to operate under a special waiver from the FAA.
Doing nothing means that Sun Valley and Ketchum could eventually lose commercial air service as the Q-400 becomes obsolete, and carriers use larger planes.