Tiny ski area pitched near Denver

WINDSOR - You certainly wouldn't call Windsor a mountain town. Located about an hour's drive north of Denver and 20 miles east of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, this is farming country. Or at least it used to be.

Lately, it has become thick with real estate developments, and one of the developers wants to create a ski area on a river bluff, using the vertical relief of 250 feet.

This would not be the first ski area in Windsor, which is also home to a Kodak plant. In the 1970s and early 1980s, a ski area called Sharkstooth was operated. It never got more than about 10,000 skier days a year, and only that by offering sliding under lights. The closest big ski areas in Colorado are located about a two-hour drive away.

That ski area, while always marginal and constantly vulnerable to heat waves, was ultimately a victim to demographics. After the bulge of baby boomers had quit skiing quite so much, the ski industry flattened through the 1990s as the Generation X, a much smaller group, came of age.

But since 2000, the industry has been growing again as a new generation, the echo boom or Gen Y, comes of age. The growth period is expected to continue another 10 to 15 years.

New Yorkers travel en masse

ASPEN - If you're from Durango, Vail or Jackson Hole, and go mountain biking or rafting in Utah during May, chances are good that you'll see somebody that you know.

And if you're from New York City vacationing at Christmas, chances are good that you'll be surrounded by other people you know from New York City. Or so reports the New York Times in an article titled, "Where Birds of Paradise Flock Together."

"Affluent New Yorkers tend to be a fashion-conscious group, and despite claiming to want to get away from everything familiar, what they really want is to be at one of the in-crowd vacation spots," explained the newspaper, before going on to list Aspen and Sun Valley, as well as St. Bart's and Palm Beach.

The newspaper continued: "Once there among friends, their place in the social pecking order is affirmed, and there are so many opportunities to know better the people who can write private school recommendations for your children or invest in your hedge fund."

The newspaper interviewed Jason Binn, the publisher of Aspen Peak, Hamptons, and Gothic magazines, which chronicle the Net Jet Set. "New Yorkers are all about six degrees of separation," said Binn, who was planning a New Year's Eve bash in Aspen with Manhattan socialist Denise Rich. "They say they love adventure, but they pretty much stick to the same places year round."

A-Basin joins ski resort rat race

DILLON - Two years ago, Arapahoe Basin was such an old-fashioned ski area it lacked snowmaking. It now has snowmaking, and in many other ways the ski area managers want to make it more like Vail, Aspen and other ski areas.

To that end, they have asked Summit County government to reserve the option for a members-only club on private land within the ski area, mimicking similar members-only affairs at other ski areas in Colorado, including Aspen, Vail, Beaver Creek and Winter Park.

Jim Gentling, general manager, told local planning commissioners he could also foresee a mid-mountain restaurant, a corporate retreat, a home for the owners (currently Dundee Realty), and a renewable energy source.

Although opened in 1946, placing it only behind Aspen, Winter Park and Monarch among Colorado's continuously operated ski areas, A-Basin lost ground as new ski areas opened at generally lower and less windy elevations and often with real estate as an ancillary.

Commercialism hits backcountry

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. - Both commercialized recreation and motorized recreation continue to make inroads into the national forests around Jackson Hole.

The U.S. Forest Service has agreed to more than double the number of skiers that High Mountain Heli-Skiing can drop in a wilderness study area. Meanwhile, the Forest Service also recently authorized the Jackson Hole Resort to expand the number of guided backcountry trips into an area adjacent to Teton Pass.

At issue, says a group fighting the guided backcountry trips, is commercialization of the public lands. "With me, it's more of a moral issue with the commercial interests crowding in on where the less privileged have skied for years," C. Stearns, a member of a group called Powder to the People, told the Jackson Hole News & Guide. Stearns had skied at the pass before the ski area opened. He and others want Jackson Hole to stick to areas adjacent to the ski area.

The overriding issue, however, is the general growing use of quasi-backcountry areas close to highways, something that is happening across the West.

"Ten years ago, people could still park at the summit of Teton Pass late on a powder day and wander into the woods to find abundant, untracked snow," notes the Jackson Hole News & Guide. "Today, the parking lot is jammed on weekends and the well known and accessible - even the dangerous - runs are tracked before noon."

Major CB development clears hurdle

CRESTED BUTTE - In Crested Butte, developers also got a pre-Christmas bonus when the Mt. Crested Butte Town Council gave preliminary approval to a $200 million base area plan. That keeps the project, a mix of new development and redevelopment, on track to break ground in April. The real estate project will give Crested Butte a much larger bed base, the better to accommodate the destination skiers that the resort so badly wants.

The other part of the plan to get destination skiers is to create what amounts to a new ski area, called Snodgrass Mountain. It is to be quite unlike Crested Butte's existing terrain, instead offering almost exclusively blues and greens. "If there were a ski area operator's prayer," writes John Norton, former manager of Crested Butte's ski area, "it might go like this: 'Please, Lord, let everyone be safe on the mountain, and give us abundant intermediate terrain and snow. Amen.'"

Fees charged for sledding near Vail

MINTURN - On Interstate 70, just west of Vail, is a place called Meadow Mountain. It once was a downhill ski area, but the Forest Service got the property in a land exchange. And so locals have used it for several decades as a sledding hill, with parents taking their small children to the hill on weekends for cheap, outdoor entertainment.

But as Vail's various suburbs grew, so did use of the hill. A few people became a lot of people, and by the late 1990s accidents had begun occurring, primarily because of sledders sliding into one other.

At first the Forest Service tried to discourage out-of-control slides by erecting plastic fences. But when the agency was accused of negligence after an accident, it banned sledding altogether.

That was a couple of years ago, but now sledding is coming back - at a cost of $16 an hour. The Vail Daily reports that the Forest Service has given a private entrepreneur the right to erect a 275-foot lift, which operates much like a rope tow. Users will be staggered, and attendants will be stationed along the hill to prevent accidents.

B.C. top singletrack destination

WHISTLER, B.C. - The International Mountain Biking Association for the second consecutive year has named British Columbia as the best location for mountain biking in the world. Whistler's freeride park was part of the reason for B.C.'s top ranking as it is the "benchmark for lift-accessed mountain biking, said IMBA.

B.C.'s downside? "Not much perhaps getting too popular," IMBA said.

In the lower 48, only West Virginia got an A from IMBA.

Highlands expands extreme terrain

ASPEN - Although it won't make them any money, the Crown family is installing a lift into the extremely steep bowl atop Aspen Highlands. Jim Crown, the managing partner in the Aspen Skiing Co., said the company hopes to break ground next summer.

Ropes into the bowl, a place of frequent avalanches before management was extended to it, were dropped two years ago. This new lift will climb 1,800 vertical feet, allowing lap-skiing in the bowl. A ski area planner, Victor Gerdin, said the lift won't produce more revenue for the company, but it makes some of the best extreme skiing in Colorado accessible to more people.

- compiled by Allen Best





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