New ski area measures demand

McCALL, Idaho – If there’s one restaurant on a block, does a second restaurant create competition or a bigger marquee?

That’s one of the questions in Idaho, where the Tamarack Resort is being built near McCall, about 2 miles north of Boise. Based on the ski mountain’s vertical of 2,800 feet (compared with 3,400 at Sun Valley’s Bald Mountain), Tamarack might be close to a skiing heavyweight, says Ketchum’s Idaho Mountain Express (Sept. 17).

But where will the skiers come from? It is, of course, a real estate push, and Tamarack recently reported a broad interest in its first offering. Beyond that, Boise has grown – a metropolitan population now approaching 500,000, a 50 percent growth increase over the last decade. And finally, the National Ski Areas Association seems to believe that the ski industry is on the upswing, although there are many skeptics who argue that the upswing is confined to patrons of buddy pass-type deals near big cities.

The Boise-McCall area already has two ski areas, Bogus Basin near Boise and Brundage Mountain near McCall. Neither is as big as what is envisioned at Tamarack. The hope at Brundage is that Tamarack might actually increase business at Brundage, in the same way that Breck skiers might take a day off to ski Vail, because it’s so close. Tamarack, by the way, plans to limit ticket sales to 3,500 skiers a day.

Vail puts brakes on Saab police cars

VAIL, Colo. – Vail’s long Saab story has ended, and Aspen’s may also. Police in both towns have been driving the sports cars for 25 years at below-market rates, but the Swedish manufacturer has decided to reduce the marketing budget.

As such, says the Vail Daily (Sept. 23), Vail has decided that it will use Ford Explorers, even if police officers think they may lose some performance. Aspen officials said they also may be dropping Saabs in favor of cheaper rides.

Park City weighs merits of tourism

PARK CITY, Utah – Tourism vs. “lifestyle” is likely to be one of the broad themes in Park City’s coming council elections, says The Park Record.

The newspaper says that as Park City gained a much larger permanent population during the 1990s, many of these new residents concluded that they didn’t want to put up with the aggravations of tourism, even if it remains the city’s most important business and also the major source of tax revenues.

Park City is not the first resort town to note that trend. Almost as long as there have been tourist towns, locals have resented the tourists. But what is new in recent years has been the arrival of large numbers of people with money to live in the ski towns and valleys.

Aspen was probably first to display this trend, but something very similar is going on in Vail. There, the town’s considerable parking problem is not caused by destination skiers, not even by the Front Range day skiers, but mostly by the locals, few of whom deign to use public buses.

Motorbikes miff Crested Butte locals

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – For some peace and quiet, don’t go to Pioneer Guest Cabins, a business located near Crested Butte. The motorcycles are just too darned loud.

So many motorcyclists without mufflers or with damaged mufflers are now using the road where the business is located, along Cement Creek, that even guests of 30 years are not returning. Other residents are staying but complaining.

How loud is loud? Audiologist Ellen Houghton says sounds emitted by motorcycles generally measure between 85 and 110 decibels. Any noise more than 100 decibels can damage human ears, damage that can’t be repaired. The ears of motorcyclists are generally not damaged while riding because helmets block more than half the noise of their engines.

Residents credit a group of local trail riders with riding trails quietly and responsibly but say the problem is bad enough to provoke a noise ordinance, reports the Crested Butte News (Sept. 12). “No one is saying we don’t want (motorcyclists) here,” said Sandy Shea, public lands director for the High Country Citizens’ Alliance. “We want them here on reasonable terms.”

County officials are empowered in Colorado to adopt two different kinds of noise ordinances, one that limits the noise generated by vehicles and another that requires properly working mufflers on vehicles. If the experience of many towns and cities is useful, such laws are only as valuable as the enforcement.

X-rays boost courthouse security

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – Security is tightening at the Teton County Courthouse. An X-ray scanning machine is being added to the existing walk-through metal detector, giving sheriff’s deputies another tool to ferret out weapons.

The cost is $40,000 for the machine, and $40,000 annually for the salary of a new hire at the sheriff’s office. Judges at the courthouse first raised concerns about need for security, and Sheriff Bob Zimmer said tight security has become the norm at courthouses nationwide.

Dr. Gonzo harassed by dog packs

ASPEN, Colo. – Controversy dogs Hunter Thompson at every turn. The Rocky Mountain News reports that four of the famed author’s peacocks have been killed by a marauding pack of dogs.

Thompson, author of various “fear and loathing” and “strange and terrible saga” books vowed revenge. “Anything that kills four animals, four people or four of anything on my property is going to die one way or another,” he told a reporter.

Informal ski coalition formed in D.C.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – An informal coalition has formed in Washington D.C. to promote the interests of ski resorts. The caucus, as such informed gatherings are often called in the nation’s capital, seems to include only a couple of congressman, Rep. Mark Udall, of Colorado, and Rep. John Sweeney, of New York.

What is the agenda of this group? There are, of course, pleasing platitudes, i.e. to “promote the health and physical benefits” of winter sports. Bill Jensen, chief operating officer of Vail Mountain, told the Vail Daily (Sept. 20) that the group also wants reform of health insurance, so that injuries suffered in extreme skiing and snowboarding are covered.

Although the ski industry is already represented in Washington D.C., the new coalition should give resorts more weight, said Jensen.

Area ski areas find local employees

PARK CITY, Colo. – Since at least the mid-1990s, ski area operators and other businesses, even fast-food franchises and grocery store chains in resort areas, have been going abroad to get temporary employees.

This year, reports The Park Record, ski resorts at Park City are scaling back their overseas recruiting efforts. “Because unemployment is so high there’s an incredible domestic population applying for seasonal work,” explained a human resources officer at The Canyons, the ski area operated by the American Skiing Co.

How much the resorts are scaling back their overseas recruitment isn’t exactly clear, and in any event, foreign workers – perhaps aside from those in Mexico and Central American – seem not to be a large part of the Park City labor force.

Elsewhere, resort areas have recruited beyond North America in both large and small ways. In smaller resorts, such as Crested Butte, there are relatively few foreign workers. In larger resorts, including Vail and Summit County, ski area operators have used the H2-B visa program to recruit hundreds. Also, burger, convenience and grocery store chains have recruited workers from Africa, Russia and New Zealand under the program. To be able to get employees in the program, they must testify that they have been unable to find qualified U.S citizens to work.

Marble deposits found in Mt. Sopris

CARBONDALE, Colo. – Pitkin County is returning to its mining roots with discovery of black and brown marble in the flanks of Mount Sopris.

Robert Congdon began prospecting in the area, about a mile up Avalanche Creek, 20 years ago. He initially was after alabaster, but he also suspected marble – and indeed, in mid-September, a machine called a “continuous miner” reached those deposits.

The Aspen Times (Sept. 22) say that assessments performed for Congdon indicate 32 million tons of brown marble and 21 million tons of black marble that can be recovered. The newspaper also says that not all of Congdon’s neighbors, located in one of Colorado’s most scenic areas, are happy with his good fortune.

Vail Resorts reduces health care

AVON, Colo. – Health insurance benefits, long considered one of the most attractive perks of working for Vail Resorts, have been significantly reduced by the company. The company has hotels and ski areas in the Vail Valley, Summit County and Lake Tahoe.

Among other changes, employees must work more hours to be eligible for benefits. During the eight peak months of the year, those in full-time year-round positions must work at least 120 hours in any two consecutive pay periods to be eligible for health care.

Vail Resorts also is withdrawing the option of a low-benefits plan to seasonal lodging employees, regardless of total hours. The change affects about 30 seasonal workers. Why? Because it can. “We came to the conclusion that we didn’t have to offer it to remain competitive,” said Pat Donovan, the director of human resources for Vail Resorts. “When we started looking at the competition, we found that it’s very uncommon to offer any kind of health insurance to seasonal employees. At Heavenly and all the resorts around Lake Tahoe, seasonal employees don’t receive health-care benefits.”

In explaining the reason for the changes, the company sent a memo to employees reporting an expected increase of $3 million costs in health care during the next year. About the same time, the company gave an $8 million bonus to chief executive officer Adam Aron for the work he did during the last several years.

-compiled by Allen Best





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