By Allen Best
Does steep lead to deep (pockets)?
TELLURIDE, Colo. – Chuck Horning, for the last nine years the owner of the Telluride ski company, has been asking hard questions about where the dollars are being spent. Such as:
What really is the value of hosting World Cup races?
Why does Telluride need its own very expensive airport when there’s a much larger, and safer one an hour away?
Is it wise to show ads of steep, extreme skiing when most paying customers have intermediate skills, if that?
He tells The Telluride Watch that after getting all the answers, he gulped and said OK to the continued expense of hosting World Cup ski races, because of the international exposure it provides.
But from Squaw Valley, he learned that too much emphasis upon the expert skiers descending chutes and peaks can scare away potential customers. He’s also working at filling in the holes of Telluride’s winter season, but how he thinks that can be done isn’t entirely clear.
He does have a clear message for Telluride locals. “Sometimes we’re so much in love with Telluride, that it clouds our brains and makes us think we’re completely different (than other resorts). Maybe Telluride is not quite as different as we thought it was.”
KSL to become epic?
DENVER, Colo. – It can be viewed as a cross-town rivalry in Denver playing out on the West Coast. KSL Capital Partners last week announced purchase of an 18 percent stake in the Whistler Blackcomb ski area, North America’s largest and busiest resort.
KSL already has two ski areas in California, Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, in addition to many other travel and leisure properties. Key figures in the company include former executives at Vail.
The Denver Post drew the obvious conclusion that with its new stake in Whistler, KSL might be in a position to package loyalty ski passes to counter the powerful Epic Pass offered by Vail Resorts. Epic Pass buyers have three ski areas in the Lake Tahoe area and five more in Colorado.
In response, several ski areas this year banded together to create a pass that might be called friends with benefits. Included are Aspen/Snowmass, Jackson Hole, Alta and the two KSL ski areas in California.
Also this year, Crested Butte and Telluride announced a similar pass. Monarch, another Colorado ski area, has a similar deal involving ski areas in New Mexico.
The transaction involving Whistler includes three ski companies, all based in metropolitan Denver-Boulder: Vail Resorts, KSL and Intrawest. Founded in Vancouver, Intrawest for a time owned Whistler outright. KSL purchased Intrawest’s remaining shares.
KSL’s direct representative will be Eric Resnick, a former executive with Vail Resorts from about a decade ago. There, he worked with Roger McCarthy, who then was the chief executive at Breckenridge and, later, also at Keystone. Then, as now, they are owned by Vail Resorts.
“I think it’s the community of Whistler and the company that came out the big winners on this (share sale),” McCarthy told Whistler’s Pique Newsmagazine. “These are quality, classy guys. If you look at the resorts they own, the hotels they own, in terms of service levels they are at the higher end of the bracket. Quality, service and price.”
This leaves Intrawest with six ski areas, including Steamboat and Winter Park in Colorado, plus Tremblant, Stratton and two others in the East.
In 1996, Intrawest was one of three big ski areas that appeared to be ready to dominate the ski industry. The others were Vail Resorts and a company from New England called American Skiing that was expanding into the West.
At the time, analysts said that Intrawest looked to be the strongest, and American Skiing overextended. The latter proved to be the case. In 2008, American Skiing sold its final property, The Canyons, and went out of business.
But Vail has continued to expand, and last week announced the purchase of two more small ski areas in the American Midwest to serve as what might be called farm teams. One serves Detroit, and the other Minneapolis-St. Paul.
The company has indicated continued interest in buying ski areas, but only those with relatively easy access from large urban populations. That would seem to leave the company with little interest in places such as British Columbia’s Revelstoke Mountain Resort or Idaho’s Tamarack.
Car-share program debuts
PARK CITY, Utah – A Toyota Prius and a Ford 250 pickup are the first two vehicles in a new car-share program introduced at Park City.
The vehicles can be used for as little as $4.95 per hour, plus a mileage charge. For the Prius, it’s $.49 cents per mile.
Car-share vehicles can be rented at any time of the day or night, for as little as an hour or for as long as three days.
The intent of the program, according to a press release from the city government, is to reduce the need for a second car or truck, or maybe any car at all. Research cited in the press release said every vehicle in the UhaulCarShare program can replace up to 20 personally owned vehicles.
Community solar in Utah
PARK CITY, UTAH – Several Colorado resort valleys now have what has variously been called solar gardens or solar farms, and there’s talk of something similar in Utah’s Summit County.
The basic idea is that while it’s fine to put solar panels atop your own house, it makes more economic and operating sense to pool resources with your neighbors at some shared location, such as on the edge of town. Buying in bulk, the panels come cheaper, and they can be maintained more easily. As well, the financing can be done in bulk.
The Park Records says that a community solar project in Salt Lake City has 64 subscribers, and the idea is being studied in Summit County.
The first such solar garden in Colorado was at El Jebel, down-valley from Aspen. Breckenridge now has two, and others have been built or are planned west of Vail and Telluride, among other locations in Colorado.
Banff lays out summer plans
BANFF, Alberta – The new owners of Norquay, a ski area near Banff, are willing to give up 42 percent of terrain authorized for winter use to begin offering summer amusements such as via ferrata, which involves installation of a steel cable, ladder and holds fixed to rock for users to climb.
The business model for the ski area seems to be marginal. It’s a locals’ hill, with the Calgary and destination visitors favoring Sunshine and Lake Louise, farther to the west. Owners have indicated that their investment can be protected only by expanding operations to summer.
First broached last year, the idea of summer use was immediately controversial. At the heart of the dispute, explains the Rocky Mountain Outlook, is whether recreation is infringing upon areas used by wildlife, especially grizzly bears, during summer.
“I’m concerned summer use is going to further decrease the attractiveness of that corridor for wildlife movement,” said Sarah Elmeligi, senior conservation planner with the southern Alberta chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.
“Grizzly bears in the Bow Valley are running out of more and more places where they can be a bear without being surrounded by thousands of people a month or hundreds of people a day.”
Proponents said that grizzly bears and recreational activities can eco-exist, with attention to details, as has been done at Lake Louise. For example, visitors can be directed to shuttle buses, to reduce the number of cars from Banff.
“We know that we’re in a wildlife corridor, and we want to mitigate as much as possible any human-wildlife interaction,” said Peter Sudermann, a co-owner of Norquay. “We’re very conscious of the wildlife movement.”
But Elmeligi said that mitigation is not the real story. “All of the mitigation tactics that have been put in place at Lake Louise and all the ones they’re going to put in place at Norquay are really just making the best of a bad situation,” she told the Outlook. “It’s reducing the potential impact, but it’s not negating that impact, and it certainly isn’t an environmental gain.
“These grizzly bears are getting so many mixed messages about how they should behave around people, it’s next to impossible for a grizzly to know when to be wary, when to be comfortable, all these kinds of things,” she added. “Summer use of Norquay further compounds that confusion.”