Billion dollar development proceeds

MINTURN – Colorado brims with plans for real estate projects that are high end in elevation as well as cost. The massive Wolf Creek project, with some 2,800 homes at an elevation of around 10,300 feet, has been the most visible, although a much smaller project near Telluride calls for homes at an even higher elevation.

But the most curious such plan is found near Vail, between the towns of Minturn and Red Cliff, where a Florida-based development firms envisions 1,700 homes on former mining properties. During the last two decades, some of these properties have been reclaimed in a $70 million Superfund cleanup.

Although a long-ago joke inThe Vail Trail was that the area where the mine tailings were consolidated would someday become a golf course, that’s exactly what is being planned by the Ginn Co. A resort village is also planned nearby on land that at one time was buried by tailings left from a mine that operated until 1977.

This area along the Eagle River is at about 8,000 feet in elevation, but other portions of the project extend to about 10,800 feet, and current plans call for two gondolas to help link them. A private ski area is also planned. The project is within a mile of the Vail ski area but cannot be linked across Forest Service lands.

Total estimated cost of the project is $1 billion.

If the golf course is built on the now-sealed mine wastes, it won’t be a first. In Montana, a golf course has been created atop wastes at the Anaconda mine. For that matter, notes theVail Daily, the town of Aspen partly occupies a former Superfund site once covered by mine waste.


Peaks hotel gets extreme makeover

MOUNTAIN VILLAGE – Sitting close to the ski slopes of Telluride, The Peaks Resort and Spa has been through several names and owners in its 15 years of existence.

The latest owner, a well-heeled private investment firm called The Blackstone Group, is ready to pour money into The Peaks to make it a “trophy asset,” in the words of John Tolbert, a vice president in the LXR Luxury Resorts, a chain of properties established by the Blackstone.

The 174 hotel rooms and all else are to get redone. And cost? “Thirty, 40, 50 million dollars?” guessed Russ Flicker, the president of development, in an interview withThe Telluride Watch. “I don’t know.”

One key change: The hotel’s Great Room will be less great itself, with ceilings lowered but windows expanded. “In a mountain setting like this,” explained Flicker, “it’s all about the views.”

Architects for the makeover are Skidmore, Owens & Merrill, whose credits include the Sears and John Hancock Towers in Chicago and the Bank of America headquarters in San Francisco. The firm has also designed the Freedom Tower proposed for the site of the former World Trade Center in New York City.


Whistler hopes for brighter future

WHISTLER, B.C. – Whistler continues to anxiously contemplate its future, trying to figure out what has happened since the glory days of the 1990s. While drought, mid-winter rain and the exchange rate has caused more skiers to go to American resorts, the organizers of a recent meeting attended by 120 locals insist there’s something else.

“It’s not that there’s anything wrong,” said Dave Halliwell the organizer. “It’s just that there’s something missing.”

Pique reports that meeting attendees tried to define Whistler’s mission as a business enterprise. The answers were somewhat expected: make memories, create good experiences, exceed expectations and so on – none of this particularly new.

But the real task, said another meeting organizer, sports-shop owner Scott Carrell, is product diversification. When Whistler was at the top of the tourism mountain five years ago, he said, the Discman was state-of-the-art technology. Now it’s an iPod. Similarly, he said, Whistler must evolve and diversify.


Mountain air steadily improves

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – Several Colorado ski towns were bumping up against federal air-quality standards in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Aspen, Telluride, Crested Butte and Steamboat Springs all had violated the standards for particulates called PM-10, or particles of 10 microns or less suspended in the air. Ten microns is about the width of a human hair.

But the air in all these towns, including Steamboat Springs, is now much improved.TheSteamboat Pilot & Today explains the

problem there was created, in part, by the volcanic rock used to sand the streets. While the sharp edges of the rocks provided traction for tires, the tires crushed the rocks and then kicked up the dust into the air. Residents also depended heavily on wood-burning stoves and fireplaces, and many of the tourist condominiums included fireplaces and wood-burning stoves.

“Gazing down Lincoln Avenue from the ski slopes on a late-March afternoon in 1990, it was possible to see a brown haze over Old Town Steamboat,” notes the newspaper’s Tom Ross, who even then was a long-time veteran of Steamboat.

The city had begun addressing the problem in 1986. Multi-family residential projects were required to begin burning natural gas, instead of wood, in fireplaces. Those with permission to continue using wood-burning stoves were required to retrofit their appliances with catalytic converters.

As in other ski towns, street crews began to more religiously sweep up the cinders after snowstorms, so that they couldn’t be kicked into the air. And, finally, the efforts to reduce emissions from the coal-burning power plants located west of Steamboat Springs have also benefited the valley’s air quality. Steamboat has not violated air quality standards since 1996.

Cloud-seeding plans alarm some

STOCKTON, Calif. – An environmental group is questioning plans to expand cloud-seeding in the Sierra Nevada. Some 12 different cloud-seeding operations are currently under way, and this new proposal calls for a portion of the Stanislaus River watershed to be seeded in an effort to induce more snow. Increased snow, in turn, provides more water for hydroelectric plants.

The most commonly used seeding agent is silver iodide, which is spewed into the wind of oncoming storms. Snowflakes form around the tiny particles. But John Buckley, executive director of the Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center, says the silver iodide could be harming amphibians and fish.

“It may not be that a single year’s worth of silver iodide application immediately causes frogs to float belly up,” Buckley told theStockton Record. “But it’s just an additional harmful effect.”

Other environmentalists are less alarmed. “On a list of a hundred environmental problems in my community, this would probably be somewhere around 98,” said Michael Jackson, an environmental attorney based in the California town of Quincy.

“It’s a potential problem when you add any sort of metal to the ground,” he added. “But I would worry a whole hell of a lot more about agricultural chemicals in Stockton than silver iodide in the Sierra.”


Monarch reports steady profits

MONARCH PASS – Do ski areas have to hawk real estate in order to make money? Nope, says Bob Nicolls, who knows something about both real estate and skiing.

Nicolls’ Denver-based real estate company, First Pacific Investments, owns about 5,000 apartments in the West. He’s also part owner of Monarch ski area, between Salida and Gunnison. He tellsThe Denver Post that Monarch expects to top $1.4 million in net income this year, up from $905,000 four years ago.

“When you’re just selling lift tickets, you do have to have tight control on your expenses,” he said. “But I guarantee we’re more profitable than any of the bigger resorts on a pound-for-pound basis.” Monarch doesn’t try to compete for Denver-area skiers, but does play hard for Oklahoma and Texas church groups. Given New Mexico drought and Monarch’s surprisingly generous snow pack this year, it has done well.

Various improvements, including new base-area buildings and more steep terrain, are being delivered. Monarch’s success, says Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association, is typical of small and medium ski areas, which have been doing as well as they ever have.

Winter Park aims for ski jump facility

WINTER PARK – When Intrawest took over at Winter Park several years ago, it reallocated the space devoted to ski jumping to other purposes, mostly beginner instruction. That didn’t set well with many locals in Winter Park, which has its roots in the same ski-jumping tradition that produced Steamboat’s renowned Howlsen Hill. Now, a proposal has been announced for a new ski-jumping facility, this time outside of the ski area but closer to the commercial core of Winter Park. However, from a report in theWinter Park Manifest, the idea seems to have shaky legs, as it is not clear who would administer the program.

– compiled by Allen Best