By Allen Best
Squaw faces local pushback
TRUCKEE, Calif. – Plans to dramatically redevelop Squaw Mountain have been facing community pushback.
“The massiveness of the project – it’s going to cover every available inch of land they own with something, some sort of structure,” Judy Carini, a 37-year resident of Squaw Valley, told Moonshine Ink.
Denver-based KSL Capital Partners, composed primarily of former ski company executives at Vail, bought the resort in 2010. With Andy Wirth, former general manager of Steamboat, at the helm of operations in Squaw, they vowed to invest $50 million in the resort in the next three to five years.
But in addition to on-mountain improvements, the company wants to significantly expand the number of lodges at the base and other attractions.
In the process, KSL wants to convert Squaw from a day ski area bulging with customers on winter weekends into a resort that expands but also spreads out the business through the week – and year.
The bedrock assumption of KSL is that market fundamentals remain strong. “Although resort real estate has been negatively impacted by the recent economic downturn, we believe long-term demographics support continued second home ownership growth in unique and memorable destinations,” said the company in a 2011 announcement.
KSL’s original plan called for buildings up to 10 stories high, dwarfing the existing four-story buildings. Since then, the company has reduced the maximum height of its tallest buildings to 6 stories, or 95 feet, about the same as the new wave of buildings in Vail, and downscaled the shorter buildings, too.
All this paring has reduced Squaw’s plans to 2,184 new bedrooms, a nearly 50 percent drop as compared to the original proposal.
However, KSL continues to plunge forward with its plans to expand the amusements beyond skiing. The central new attraction would be something called the Mountain Adventure Center, which is designed to draw visitors during summer, especially. It would include a swimming pool and possibly slides and ziplines, all of this in a 132,000-square-foot building. By comparison, Wal-Mart Supercenters range in size from 98,000 to 261,000 square feet.
Also in the cards is something called the Timberline Twister, a bobsled-like roller coaster.
These and other changes would help Squaw draw people for multi-day stays.
“We’re trying to reduce that dependence on our ski destination experience by car, so as to compete with the top alpine destinations,” said Chevis Hosea, vice president of development for Squaw Valley.
Squaw has had some failures along the way. Notably, the Intrawest development early in the last decade didn’t pan out particularly well.
But Squaw’s current owners say they’re different. “Don’t compare us to the failed developers within this valley,” said Hosea. “Compare us to ourselves. Go online. Look at KSL Capital and KSL Resorts where they’ve been developing for the last 20 years, and look at those results.”
But for the time being, the debate in Squaw seems to teeter on a familiar topic in mountain towns, one framed by Hal Clifford’s 2003 book, “Downhill Slide.” He took aim at manufactured resorts, such as Vail and Copper Mountain, arguing that ski towns had become false and distant from the core experience of skiing. He argued that non-skiing attractions had made them soft, and compared them to luxury cruise liners.
Moonshine Ink’s story in November played hard on both themes. “I am really worried about changing this to a Disneyland resort with nothing for the locals,” said Ed Heneveld, identified as a 30-year Squaw resident.
Said another resident: “I like Squaw being a sleepy, quiet place, but I understand that a business wants to be successful.”
Whistler leery of pipeline
WHISTLER, B.C. –Echoing a position taken in April by the Whistler municipal council the local chamber has voted to oppose the Northern Gateway pipeline project.
The pipeline would export bitumen from the oil/tar sands of Alberta across the Rockies to a port several hundred miles north of Whistler. Despite the distance from Whistler, local officials fear that the pipeline might result in oil spills, sullying all of British Columbia’s reputation as a pristine landscape.
Whistler invests in lifts
WHISTLER, B.C. – Owners of Whistler Blackcomb have pulled the trigger on an $18 million investment of two new lifts at the ski area.
Dave Brownlie, chief executive for the resort, told Whistler’s Pique Newsmagazine that it’s part of the strategy of the resort to grow business, which last year had 2.1 million winter visitors and 500,000 in summer.
“We’d like to get this place to over three million visitors in winter and summer,” he said. “There’s no question investments like these bring more people here.”
A local hotelier, Jim Douglas, general manager of the Pan Pacific hotels, called it “wonderfully powerful news for our community. They wouldn’t be spending money if they didn’t think they were going to get it back.”
Will ‘Dance be rescheduled?
PARK CITY, UTAH – While Aspen continues to work diligently to hang onto the X Games each January, Park City remains vigilant about its ties to the Sundance Film Festival.
The 11-day festival draws all the cinema crowd from across the country and film critics from the major newspapers, not to mention Paris Hilton and her entourage. It fills up the town.
The Park Record says that town leaders would prefer that the festival was rescheduled, so that it didn’t overlap with Martin Luther King weekend. As is, skiers who might otherwise come find Park City’s pews already filled.
But Sundance likes the current schedule, so that it can be the first major film festival of the year.
No plastic chairs at this alley
SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo. – What was once a movie theater, then a ballroom and conference center, now will likely soon become a bowling alley, the first in the Snowmass-Aspen area.
Mark Reece tells the Aspen Daily News that he plans a boutique operation: maybe eight lanes, gourmet food and comfy couches. Not any of those cheap plastic chairs at this joint.
South Lake won’t ban plastic
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – South Lake Tahoe almost certainly will not join the 55 cities and 5 counties in California that have restricted the distribution of plastic shopping bags, reports the Tahoe Daily News.
The three elected officials at a recent municipal meeting all shared concerns about the effect of a ban, including the worry that reusable bags are hard to clean and can spread food borne illnesses.
However, a recent poll in nearby Truckee shows strong public support for a ban, says the Sierra Sun.