By Allen Best
Snow tallies upside-down
VAIL, Colo. – Other places get bigger dumps than Vail, but it’s always been a point of local pride that Vail rarely gets shut out entirely by storms.
“Vail has the most consistent snow of any place in the world,” Mayor Andy Daly, who has been involved in the ski business at various Colorado resorts for more than 40 years, said at a community meeting last week.
But consistent or not, Vail went into Christmas for the first time since 1981 without opening its famous Back Bowls.
In Vail, as elsewhere, ski and community officials were trying to put the best light on the lack of snow in the busy week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
“You take last year’s snow, and this year’s snow, and between the two of them we have two average seasons,” joked Chris Jarnot, chief operating office for Vail Mountain, referring to last years’ phenomenal snowfall “Our grooming crew has been pulling rabbits out of hats so far,” he added.
In Breckenridge, the Summit Daily News noted that Denver International Airport, located on the prairie 15 miles east of Denver, had received as much snow.
In Idaho, Brundage Mountain didn’t open until Friday before New Year’s Eve, the second latest opening in the 50-year history of the resort. The resort, located three and a half hours north of Boise, near McCall, brands itself as “Idaho’s best snow.
Bogus Basin, located a half-hour from Boise, wasn’t open as of New Year’s. Rain was destroying the efforts of snowmakers, the Idaho Statesmen said.
For many resorts, Vail and Brundage included, the red-letter year of record was the 1976-1977 season. By then, a few resorts – Winter Park in particular – had begun investing in snowmaking. Another drought, in 1980-1981 was equally disastrous during December. In some Colorado resorts, only an inch of snow fell. Lingering doubts about snowmaking receded.
Of course, it’s been warm enough to melt snow. On New Year’s Day 1981, lift ops in Steamboat sported Hawaiian shirts. This past Friday, Steamboat hit a high of 47 degrees, reported Steamboat Today, causing grooming crews to resort to an old machine to break up the surface glaze on the ski trails.
Perhaps surprisingly, local officials in Colorado reported very few complaints. Adam Suttner, the director of sale and marketing for Vail Resorts, reported that surveys revealed customer satisfaction on par with last year, when Vail and many other resorts were having epic powder storms.
In Snowmass, the gist was the same. “Our guests love the blue skies,” said Russell Forrest, the town manager of Snowmass Village. Not so much the singer LeAnn Rimes, who tweeted to fans about a mishap: “Tailbone hurts from falling on a stump that tripped up my board ‘cause THERE’S NOT ENOUGH SNOW.”
Ski towns were busy. In Aspen, occupancy hit 90 percent before New Year’s last year. Bill Tomcich, who heads the local reservations agency, predicted this year will be busier yet – the busiest, in fact, since the 2007-2008 season.
But if rooms are filled now, they won’t be through winter unless the jet stream hews to a more traditional path. “We need snow to really bump up the bookings,” Crested Butte spokeswoman Erica Reiter told the Crested Butte News. “People are watching the weather in Colorado, and it’s not snowing, so they’re holding back.”
Transceivers no help this time
REVELSTOKE, B.C. – Several people in British Columbia died in avalanches in the final days of December.
Near Revelstoke, a 45-year-old Canadian was killed in a heli-skiing area. Three of the people in his group were partially buried, but he was completely buried. When eventually located by avalanche transceiver, he was unresponsive, reported the Revelstoke Times Review.
Five helicopters and 10 guides, plus two physicians, were involved in the attempted rescue in an area called the Selkirk.
Near Pemberton, east of Whistler, a 30-year-old backcountry skier died after being swept 1,800 metres and into a treed area. When his two companions located him, he was still alive but in critical shape. One went for help, while the other remained on the cold, dark, snowy mountain to continuously apply CPR in the failed effort to keep his friend alive. The victim was a ski patroller at Whistler/Blackcomb.
High-end market improves
TELLURIDE, Colo. – Elements of the real estate market were clearly stronger in Telluride this last year, but the recovery was not uniform in all sectors. That same story played out at nearly all the mountain destination resorts of the West.
In Vail, for example, sales figures were up, and the price per square foot of properties increased significantly. Not so down-valley in Eagle and Gypsum, where prices continued to scrape bottoms established two years ago, agents tell Mountain Town News.
Ditto in Jackson Hole. The high-end market is returning, but across Teton Pass in Idaho, there’s a glut of real estate inventory in the Driggs-Victor area.
Across Colorado, mountain resort counties report that new foreclosures in 2011 were close to even with those of 2010.
In Telluride, there’s hope that the resort hews to tradition and follows in Aspen’s footsteps in about six months. Aspen and Pitkin County, observes long-time real estate broker George Harvey, were up by 15 percent in the number of transactions this past year and up 10 percent in the dollar volume.
For Telluride to successfully stay in Aspen’s footprints, he told The Telluride Watch, sellers will have to drop their prices further. But buyers seem to be becoming more tolerant of the world’s constant financial tremors – suggesting a more lively market in 2012.
Park City enjoys new rec center
PARK CITY, Utah – Park City now has a new recreation center. Even as the recession arrived, by pinching pennies, the city council went ahead with the project, which cost $10.3 million. It includes four tennis courts designed to meet the U.S. Tennis Association specifications, reports The Park Record.
Comprehensive plan scrapped
DURANGO, Colo. – After two years, 150 meetings, and $1 million in costs, the La Plata County Comprehensive Community Plan was scrapped in December. This was the third time in recent years that efforts to craft a comp plan for the county on the edge of Colorado’s San Juan Mountains ended in a divisive stalemate, reports the Durango Telegraph.
The newspaper probes what went wrong, and the quotes suggest an echo of the national debate about the role of government. La Plata County, it would seem, has more of an ear for what the Republican presidential candidates are saying.
Travis Craig, the chairman of the planning commission, which first whittled the proposed 157-page document to 11 pages then killed it altogether, said the plan tried to create images of the future based on community values – something he believes government has no business doing.
A county commissioner, Bobby Lieb, told the Telegraph he doesn’t think the county needs a comprehensive plan at all. He believes the plan attempted to force gentrification and was, at heart, elitist. He said he didn’t agree with the idea of sprawl. It is, he says, in the eye of the beholder. “I won’t tell people where and how they can live; the market will decide.”
Another county commissioner, Kellie Hotter, said the county government will get to work right away on simplifying the county land-use code and providing certainty while reducing the obstacles to building permits.
Tamarack Resort looks to future
DONNELY, Idaho – Is Tamarack, the resort north of Boise forced into bankruptcy in 2008, a bad dream or a good dream interrupted? Experts consulted by the Idaho Statesman in a late-November piece point toward the latter.
“You don’t need to be very big to be very successful,” said John Norton, formerly a ski executive in Crested Butte and Aspen. “You don’t need a million skier days to have a strong hold on some of your guests.”
Norton has teamed with Bill Ciraco, a trader at a New York-based investment fund, to serve as advisers for anyone looking to buy Tamarack. Planned for decades, the resort took off in 2004 after a key permission from Idaho authorities. Construction of homes, shops and other amenities followed. But in 2008, Tamarack defaulted on a $250 million note from Credit Suisse, which began foreclosure proceedings. In 2009, other creditors forced the resort into a bankruptcy.
The foreclosure process could be coming to an end. Creditors and potential investors await a judge’s order that could outline who is owed what and in what order, the Statesman reports. But even a sale might not be final. Idaho law allows the original owner up to one year to pay off the top bidder and take the property back.
“What’s left behind is so well done,” Norton said. “The lifts are in the right places, the buildings are well executed, the village needs completion.” He said there are no glaring errors other than the obvious ones that led Tamarack into its financial problems.
Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association, said putting ski operations into experienced hands is the key to regrowing Tamarack. Even so, it will take awhile, he said.
But ski area operations can be profitable. Nationally, the average return on investment for ski resorts is 21 percent in earnings before interest, taxes, deprecation and certain other expenses. Once Tamarack’s past is sorted out, a bidding war could ensue, said Berry.
Norton and Ciraco told the Statesmen that they have met with four prospective bidders in the last three years, including two high-net-worth families and a real estate fund with ownership in other ski resorts. There are also at least a couple of interested parties from the Boise area.
Sun Valley talks food
KETCHUM, Idaho – Talk is surfacing in the Ketchum-Sun Valley area of expanded offerings of culinary instruction. A group called Sustain Blaine has been talking with the College of Southern Idaho about a culinary institute that would have three components: professional training, destination cooking classes, and short demonstrations and workshops.
However, some of the programming is already offered by other organizations, points out the Idaho Mountain Express. Officials describe the concept as still early in development.