Colorado ski areas post ‘good’ year

DENVER – It was a good but not great year for Colorado ski areas. On one hand, the ski areas collectively posted 11.81 million skier days, the third-biggest season on record. The record season was set seven prior.

Also promising was the return of lucrative out-of-state destination visitors, whose ranks swelled by 7 percent. More notable was the 28 percent increase in international visitors.Colorado Ski Country USA, the trade group, said that the United Kingdom, the largest international market, produced 31 percent more skiers this past winter, while visits form Australia grew 25 percent and those from Latin America grew 16 percent.

But given the good snow across much of the state, the roaring economy and the lingering of Baby Boomers on the slopes even as their offspring, the Echo Boomers, arrive – well, the numbers could have been better.

Ford Frick, an economist who studies ski industry trends, said the numbers are a testament to the industry’s efforts at pulling itself together over the last four or five years. Ski areas have created attractive pricing plans while successfully targeting key growth areas, he noted. However, at the end of the day, the numbers indicated a “good but not great” ski season. “I don’t think we’ll again see double-digit growth,” he said, alluding to the years in the 1970s and early 1980s when double-digit gains were common as Baby Boomers came of age.

In individual areas, Crested Butte did the best, although ski area officials said a whopping 12 percent gain did not translate into profits. Most of the gain, they said, was due to use of season passes.

The Aspen Skiing Co. said business at its four ski mountains was up 3.3 percent, although the all-important destination business was up 5.6 percent. Vail Resorts was up overall 4.4 percent at its four ski mountains. Intrawest has not announced gains at its two ski areas.

Among individual ski areas, Keystone returned to the ranks of the millionaires club (more than 1 million skiers), Breckenridge notched a record of 1.47 million, as did Beaver Creek, its third consecutive record. Vail barely budged off last year’s numbers, but no matter. It continued to be North America’s busiest ski resort.

Bacon and wine paired at festival

ASPEN – Bacon and wine? That was one of the combos at Aspen’s high-rent culinary festival, the Food & Wine Magazine Classic.

Tasting bacon and wine together may sound unorthodox, but it’s all about flavor, explained Dan Philips, who presented a seminar called “Best Bacon Wines.”

Food is always a filter for wine, he told theAspen Times. Some things work together, and some combinations are overpowering. Bacon is no different. To that end, he has visited farms and met with people who cure bacon.

At the tasting, a $35 bottle of RBJ 2001 Theologicum received rave reviews for its pleasant coupling with each strip of bacon.

“Bacon is my favorite food, and wine is my favorite drink, so this is a no-brainer,” said James Wallace, one of the seminar’s attendees. “Now I just need to find wines that go well with Cheetos.”

Berthoud Pass ski area wiped out

WINTER PARK – A lodge at one of Colorado’s first ski areas is no more. As ordered by the Forest Service, the 30,000-square-foot building at Berthoud Pass was reduced to rubble last week.

The ski area, one of Colorado’s oldest, having opened in 1937, has operated only sporadically since the mid-1980s and not at all since 2001. In an age of mega-resorts, the Forest Service saw no future for the ski area and worried that the building would become a public safety hazard. In its place, the Forest Service plans a 5,000-square-foot structure that will include rest rooms but no commercial operations.

A group called Friends of Berthoud Pass found irony in the loss. “It’s ironic that after decades of innovation in the ski industry that we’re skiing the pass the same way our contemporaries did in the 1930s,” said Shan Sethna, the group’s executive director, in an interview withThe Denver Post.

Of course, we’re now skiing with metal edges, which do wonders for control.

Sun Valley airport goes down-valley

HAILEY, Idaho – Ketchum-Sun Valley interests have settled on a location 37 miles from Sun Valley as the preferred site for a new airport. This is slightly more distant than the airports that serve Vail, Steamboat and Crested Butte.

The existing airport is at Hailey, located much closer. However, consultants have said the airport cannot meet Federal Aviation Administration safety standards without expanding outside the existing airport site. That possibility was vetoed by the Hailey City Council and the Blaine County Commission.

The preferred site is actually in the next county, Lincoln County. The head of the ski company, Wally Huffman, has continually railed at the location as too far. “If you don’t get off your duff and talk to your elected officials, we’re going to have an hour-and-a-half ride to an airport that nobody will use,” he told a recent chamber gathering in Ketchum. TheIdaho Mountain Expresspolitely describes the trip as no more than 45 minutes.

Still, the new location is no shoo-in. Various reviews, as specified when federal agencies or federal money is involved, must now begin. As well, there may be environmental opposition. However, the location is next to an existing highway, suggesting existing noise pollution.

Vail proposes new real estate lift

VAIL – The hottest of the hot real estate is next to the ski lifts. With that in mind, Vail Resorts wants to build another high-speed lift from Vail onto Vail Mountain. That would create the fifth portal to what is North America’s largest ski area.

At the base of this lift, the company proposes 108 condominiums that would be managed by Ritz-Carlton. Vail expects lucrative returns. Adam Aron, the chairman of Vail Resorts, noted that nearby townhomes being built by Vail Resorts fetched as much as $1,005 per square foot. The two projects together earned the company between $80 million and $90 million in revenue.

Before this new lift happens, both town and U.S. Forest Service authorities must pass judgment.

Sun Valley shifts development plan

SUN VALLEY, Idaho – Earl Holding, owner of the Sun Valley Co., has shifted plans. He has decided he wants to start within two years on a 125- to 175-room hotel on the main parking lot at the base of the ski area, following by a nine- and possibly 18-hole golf course on adjacent property.

Ultimately, Sun Valley Co. plans 2,100 housing units in a mixture of single-family, hotel rooms, and condominiums on its slope-side land.

Meanwhile, public opposition has altered plans for gondolas. Still planned is a new gondola to the ski area from the site of some of this future real estate development, a project called River Run, but two other gondolas have been put on hold.

Ski pass to be awarded to top hiker

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – Many libraries have summer “bookworm” reading programs. In ski towns, it’s all about sweat. A case in point is Jackson Hole, where both of the ski areas have summer hiking programs.

The older program is at Snow King Mountain, the small ski area adjacent to the town of Jackson. Participants track how many trips they run or hike up the 1,571-foot ski mountain. Now, a similar program is under way at the bigger Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. The person who has climbed the most vertical feet using the resort’s 7.2-mile road at summer’s end will get a ski pass.

EPA plans Crested Butte clean-up

CRESTED BUTTE – The Environmental Protection Agency is mapping out a proposed Superfund site about 8 miles from Crested Butte.

Gold, silver and other minerals were mined at the site from 1931 until 1961, but the mine continues to discharge highly acidic water that contains arsenic, barium and other heavy metals at elevated levels. The water ultimately flows through Crested Butte, although there the minerals have been diluted.

-compiled by Allen Best

Woman drowns after ATV plunge

PEMBERTON, B.C. – A 34-year-old woman drowned after the ATV she was driving from her house plunged 15 feet from a suspension bridge into a fast-moving river.

She attempted to swim to shore, but was swept by the strong current before kayakers who witnessed the fall could get to her, reports Whistler’s Pique. She had worked at the Whistler and Blackcomb ski areas and is survived by two children, ages 10 and 12, as well as a boyfriend. She was, said friends, the life of the party.

– compiled by Allen Best


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