Homes capped at 15,000 square feet

ASPEN – County commissioners in Pitkin County, where Aspen and Snowmass are located, have capped the size of all new houses in unincorporated areas at 15,000 square feet.

The cap has been discussed since Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, the former ambassador from Saudi Arabia to the United States, built a 55,000-square-foot mansion in an Aspen suburb some years ago. Regulations imposed since then, reportsThe Aspen TimesandThe Denver Post, have made larger houses increasingly difficult and expensive.

Still, one or two houses of that size or larger are built on average every year. While the official cap had been 5,750 square feet, builders could exceed that limit by purchasing transferable development rights originating on old mining claims in backcountry parts of Pitkin County.

Who decides what house is too big? That’s the big question. Michael Owsley, a county commissioner, noted that 15,000 square feet is about the size of the County Courthouse. The larger the house, the greater the impact upon the community infrastructure, he said.

A contrary point of view was expressed by Ed Foran, president of the Aspen Board of Realtors, who questioned whether county commissioners “should be making philosophical decisions like that.” But, he said, there’s no question that some people can afford such big houses. “The demand is absolutely there,” he said.

The Post reports that in nearby Eagle County, where Vail and Beaver Creek are located, the largest home sold last year had 10,500 square feet. One home in Aspen currently on the market for $35 million has 14,300 square feet.

The Times noted that meetings at which the cap was considered were more heavily attended by people with a financial interest in larger homes being allowed. “It’s money,” said County Commissioner Dorothea Farris. “It’s greed.” Mick Ireland, another county commissioner, said that commissioners must “weigh the voice of people with a direct financial interest, with the people as a whole.”


Resort aims for chubby Americans

WHISTLER, B.C. – Is there money to be made in Canada from pudgy Americans? That’s part of the strategy of Tourism Whistler, a promotional group that aims to increase room nights by 10 percent in winter, 9 percent in summer.

The new plan sees potential for gaining more visitors by appealing to gay people, family travelers, and golf and mountain biking tourists. But a report byPique newsmagazine dwells on the blooming health and wellness sector.

“People don’t want to die,” explained Scott Carrell, the largest independent equipment renter in Whistler. “They want to live longer … I think we have to refresh our product, and I think wellness is a big component of that.”

Even conferences could be sold with a wellness component, suggested Carrell. “Certainly employers want their employees to be healthier so we could have a wellness program as part of their conference,” he toldPique.

Moreover, 64 percent of people in the United States are officially classified as either overweight or obese. “So how big is that opportunity?” Carrell added.

Research by the promotional group has shown that 40 per- cent of existing visitors have high interest in visiting a spa and 26 percent of existing visitors would be positively influenced to visit the resort if Whistler developed more spa-specific packages and promotions.


Crested Butte debates ski expansion

CRESTED BUTTE – Crested Butte continues to debate the merits of a ski area expansion that is informally called Snodgrass Lite.

Snodgrass would give Crested Butte more intermediate terrain. Officials say that is crucial to getting more free-spending destination visitors and getting existing destination guests to return. Crested Butte, as compared to resorts such as Steamboat and Vail, has a low return rate. Too many visitors, unable to ski the XX-rated runs, get bored after two or three days of skiing the existing green and blue runs, ski area officials have said.

And, as explained by John Norton, now a consultant to Crested Butte, the resort needs to get a critical mass of 500,000 to 600,000 skier days annually to operate efficiently. In recent years, after ending its ski-free promotions, Crested Butte has reported 300,000 to 400,000 skier days.

Mt. Crested Butte, sitting next to the ski slopes, seems more inclined toward the expansion. Farther away, the old coal-mining town of Crested Butte trends against it. In fact, a group calling itself Friends of Snodgrass has collected the signatures of 900 people opposed to the new ski area.

“We feel that Snodgrass Mountain has more value economically to our community without ski lifts on it,” Vicki Shaw, a Friends of Snodgrass member, told theRocky Mountain News. The newspaper also finds evidence of resentment against vacation home owners and the real-estate boom that has already resulted, in part, from the expected expansion.

Ski terrain in Colorado overall has expanded far more rapidly than skier days in the last decade. However, those who have expanded have, in many cases, also drawn more skiers.


Deep Temerity draws big crowds

ASPEN – Who says bells and whistles don’t sell lift tickets? Aspen Highlands several years ago opened up its famous bowl, and skier days have been increasing ever since.

A new chairlift, called Deep Temerity, was installed last summer, and this year numbers are even stronger yet. While The Aspen Skiing Co. is reporting a 5 percent increase in business at its four ski areas, company officials credit Highlands with being the largest single part of the story.

In the 1990s, Highlands constituted only 7 percent of the company’s business. Through January of this year, it was more than 13 percent. In addition to the bowl, various other modern lifts have been added at Highlands.

Still, even if Highlands could comfortably increase its skier days from the 167,000 skier visits recorded last year to perhaps 200,000, it probably will never equal the record set in the go-go ’70s, when more than 300,000 skier days were recorded in at least two winters.

Meanwhile, Highlands’ surging popularity means fewer skiers on Aspen Mountain, especially on powder days.


Hotel could replace bobsled track

PARK CITY, Utah – A large hotel could be in the offing for the area where the bobsled and luge were held in the 2002 Winter Olympics. A Chicago-based development firm, Terrace Development, had wanted to build it in the Sun Peak area of Summit County, near Park City. But neighbors have been adamantly opposed to the size, 275,000 square feet.

While the county commissioners have indicated a willingness to approve a hotel only half the size, theSalt Lake Tribune reports discussion of relocating the hotel across the hill, to the Utah Olympic Park. For that to happen would require approval of the Utah governor and approval of a real-estate deed transfer by the Legislature.

John Bennion, president of the foundation that operates the firm, clearly likes the idea. He told theTribune sale of the land would add several million dollars to the Utah Athletic Foundation endowment, which funds the park. Bennion said the hotel would bring high-end tourists who might want to shell out $200 for a bobsled ride. Those new visitors would also bring new sponsors for ski jumping and bobsled racing, he said.


Backcountry claims ski patroller

MAMMOTH, Calif. – It’s been a tough month at Mammoth. Three people died after hitting trees or rocks, and another died on the slopes. Then, on Feb. 1, a trio of ski patrollers were in the backcountry on a day off when they triggered avalanches.

One of the ski patrollers, Johanna Carlsson, died.The Sheetsays the woman was not buried, but her companions recognized immediately that she had sustained multiple life-threatening injuries, including a broken back, femur and head injuries. The avalanche occurred in the morning, and despite the strength and preparedness of the ski patrollers, who managed to call for help by noon, their companion had not been retrieved by a helicopter until about 5:30 p.m. She was immediately taken to a hospital in Fresno that specializes in spinal injuries.

The ski patrollers, described as experienced backcountry travelers, were traversing a 35-degree slope when the avalanche occurred.

– compiled by Allen Best

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