Colorado losing destination status

DENVER, Colo. Is Colorado in danger of losing its title as the pre-eminent region for skiing and snowboarding in North America?

Colorado's decline in destination skiers was already well known, but a study commissioned by Colorado Ski Industry USA put numbers to the loss: more than 1 million destination-skier visits during the last six years. While there are many reasons drought, recession and war, to name a few the bottom-line conclusion is that "something isn't working for the state's once mighty ski industry," said The Denver Post , in reporting about the study.

Most losses have been to Utah, which has had a 12 percent gain in destination business since 1999, and to Canadian resorts, which have increased the number of American visitors by 127 percent in recent years, owing at least partly to exchange rates favorable to Americans.

Colorado's skier days overall have held up because low-priced lift tickets at resorts close to the state's burgeoning Front Range population. The greatest drops among resorts have been at Colorado's outlying resorts, particularly Aspen, Crested Butte and Telluride. But even at Vail and Beaver Creek, destination-skier days have declined by about 40,000.

In British Columbia, Whistler's Pique newsmagazine had two different reactions. First, it said this provides evidence that British Columbia can take away from Colorado the crown of being the pre-eminent ski and snowboard region in North America. The provincial government there is aggressively favorable toward development of new resorts, and Whistler/Vancouver will host the 2010 Olympics. Growth in customers must be accomplished to pay for that expansion, the newspaper said.

But Pique also argued that something must be done to create more snow-sliders, and hence also future purchasers of recreational real estate. Why? Intrawest, to cite one example, probably doesn't want to steal market share from its resorts in Colorado or California to produce gains at Whistler, where it operates the ski area. Other businesses likewise have operations in various resort towns.

Politician objects to ski report card

TELLURIDE, Colo. So, if a ski area screws up, how long should it have to pay for its sins? That's the fundamental issue in Telluride, and perhaps elsewhere, in the matter of an environmental report card for ski areas issued by the Ski Area Citizens' Coalition. The coalition believes in "spare the rod and spoil the ski area," or at least a liberal application of D's and F's. Sure to earn bad scores are base-area real estate development or terrain expansions. The coalition argues there is no reason for expansions at destination resorts, where business has been essentially flat.

In the case of Telluride Ski & Golf Co., which this year received a D, a local politician is objecting loudly. Art Goodtimes, a San Miguel County commissioner, argues that the report card unfairly judges the Telluride ski area for its past, not for its present actions. "No, they don't deserve an A yet. Maybe a B- or a C+. But they have shown some real significant improvement," he writes in The Telluride Watch .

"So let's give credit where credit's due. Telski is trying harder," says Goodtimes, a Green Party member who is usually trying to build coalitions. "All told, a fair Environmental Report Card would take some note of the improved conditions if the evaluators were truly measuring the dynamic nature of the industry and not just damning ski areas for their past sins."

Old-timers help defeat new ski lifts

VAIL, Colo. At least for awhile, Vail's famous back bowls will be spared the more-and-faster routine that some think improves the snow-riding experience. Bowing to public opinion, Vail Resorts has shelved a proposal to increase its uphill lift capacity.

Vail's original back bowls are served only by one ski lift, an aging three-seater that is clogged by lift lines of up to 45 minutes on powder days. The ski company talked of replacing this old lift with two detachable quads, in effect nearly quadrupling uphill capacity.

But despite popular sentiment for at least some more-and-faster changes, the sentiments of a few old Vail hands seem to have tipped the scale. "If you increase the number of high-speed lifts in this area, this very special area will be skied out in one hour," wrote Pep Gramshammer, 71, a former Austrian ski champion who was among Vail's first hoteliers.

A former mayor, Kent Rose, had similar comments protesting changes that would have shortened the already ephemeral but pure powder skiing experience. Instead, the change would bring on more "snowmaking, groomed slopes, hardpack and moguls," he said.

Vail Resorts officials indicated they may yet replace the triple with a high-speed quad, but when the triple needs substantial repairs.

Yellowstone snowmobilers distressed

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. Snowmobile outfitters on the periphery of Yellowstone National Park were reporting deep financial distress in the wake of a federal court ruling that limits the number of snowmobiles inside the park.

Illustrating the effect is the story of Jackson Hole Snowmobile Tours. The company had had 80 permits. Then, under the Clinton administration, the National Park Service had planned to allow only 15 permits. When George W. Bush became president, the number was increased to 35. Now, it's back to 15.

What that means, office manager Stacey Chapman told the Jackson Hole News & Guide , is that the company now has 22 "useless" four-stroke snowmobiles on its hands. The machines, she said, are too heavy to perform well in national forest terrain, where the company also runs tours. They are suited for the groomed trails on roads in Yellowstone.

The four-stroke engine snowmobiles, which are quieter and cause less air pollution, cost $6,000 each, compared to $3,300 for two-stroke snowmobiles. Ironically, the Clinton administration plan now once again in effect had not required the newer and more costly four-stroke engines.

Another snowmobile operator, Old Faithful Snowmobile Tours, has spent $123,000 to buy 21 four-stroke snowmobiles, an investment he could only recoup by operating under permit numbers approved by the Bush plan.

Snowmass unveils extreme skiing

SNOWMASS, Colo. A new 35-acre section of cliffs and glades at Snowmass is X-rated. "These sections have mandatory air your feet are going to come off the ground. There's no easy way down," explained John Brennan, Snowmass snow safety specialist.

The Aspen Times says that although free riders have been finding cliffs for several years, this is the first time any of the Aspen Skiing Co.'s four mountains have opened sections exclusively for those of the extreme set. Even so, the section will be opened only after storms and only on guided tours.

The idea was triggered by the unexpected success of the Colorado Free Ride Series at Snowmass. "It surprised me that so many people were into that kind of stuff," said Doug Mackenzie, general manger at Snowmass.

Real estate continues surge in Vail

EAGLE COUNTY, Colo. The real estate economy during November showed the fourth consecutive month of recovery in Eagle County. Of particular note was a flurry of sales in homes of $1 million and more, the sector with more than 60 percent of the dollar volume, notes the Vail Daily .

However, year-to-date sales of $1.2 billion still lagged substantially behind the $1.7 billion in the record year of 2000.

Healthy Forest Initiative criticized

PARK, CITY, Utah Congress has now passed the Healthy Forest Initiative, which is supposed to manage national forests to reduce potential of catastrophic fires. But several environmental organizations insist that even after compromises it remains the wrong solution.

For example, the California fires this past fall were cited by some Congressional advocates as a good argument for the law. But Matthew Kohler of the Native Forest Network writes that the majority of the California fire burned on private lands, and more than 90 percent of the land was chaparral and brush, not forests that can be trimmed back by commercial loggers.

Writing in The Park Record , Koehler argues that there is no proof that the logging contemplated by the new law will reduce fire threat, and some evidence suggests that it will increase fire potential. This latter, counterintuitive argument is that commercial logging, by focusing on larger diameter trees, does not remove the ladder fuels that contribute to fire spread.

-compiled by Allen Best





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