Discount air eyes mountain towns

DENVER – The cost of flying between Denver and the various resorts of Colorado, including Durango, could become cheaper next year.

Denver-based Frontier Airlines, a discount carrier known for its marketing theme that features talking bears, lynx and other critters, is getting 10 new regional airplanes at a cost of roughly $26 million each. Built by Bombardier, the 74-passenger turboprops can fly distances of 650 to 700 miles.

The planes are also far more energy efficient than similar-sized planes. That, say analysts, will allow Frontier a greater margin to reduce fares while still remaining profitable.

“When you draw a 650- to 700-mile circle around Denver, what we see is a lot of opportunity, but we didn’t necessarily have the right aircraft,” Frontier chief executive Jeff Potter toldThe Denver Post. “It gives us the flexibility to serve some of the Colorado mountain destinations that we couldn’t otherwise do.”

“It’s very exciting news, no matter how you slice it,” says Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass and an authority on airlines. He noted that United Airlines, which is the lone provider of Denver-Aspen shuttles, this week was offering a walk-up fare of $430 for that flight. The walk-up fare for a Denver-Fort Lauderdale flight on Frontier was $139.

Also seeing a margin for lower fares is Kent Myers, of Airplanners Inc., a firm that creates flight programs for several resort markets in the West. “It will make United stand up and take notice,” he said.

Frontier has identified 18 potential airports it could fly into, but has not specified which it will use. Myers expects Aspen, Vail, Jackson Hole and Steamboat to make the cut. Other resort markets mentioned in news accounts include Durango and Billings, Mont.,an hour away from the ski resort of Red Lodge.

Many resort areas in the Rockies have not had more than one airline offering shuttles to Denver since Continental Airlines ended shuttles to Denver in 1994. Among those most severely affected was Aspen, which overnight lost 35 percent of its available incoming seats.


Steamboat ski area goes up for sale

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – Two of the biggest pieces of the resort puzzle at Steamboat Springs are now up for play.

Earlier this year, American Skiing Co. announced it was testing the waters for potential sale of the Steamboat ski area, one of its most consistently successful ski areas.

Now, several major components of the base area are being marketed. Those components include the 315-room Sheraton hotel, the Thunderbird Lodge, and a commercial complex called Ski Time Square. Also available for sale are the golf course and Graystone residential subdivision.

The owner is Ski Time Square Enterprises, which is composed of six individuals plus Starwood Hotels.

Denver-based HVS Capital was hired to market the properties, and the firm’s managing director, Mike Sullivan, toldThe Denver Post that he expects the properties will fetch “well over $100 million.” He also said “there is a high probability that whoever buys the base-area properties would also buy the mountain. It makes good sense.”

The base area has been the target of redevelopment for the last two years. An urban-renewal authority was formed in 2005 to fund more than $18 million in public improvements there.

Suzanne Bott, the town’s senior planner, said that consolidating ownership of the base area and the ski area could yield some “amazing redevelopment.”


Below-cost timber sales welcomed

SUMMIT COUNTY – Forests of lodgepole pine in the Vail, Summit County and Winter Park areas this summer have shifted appreciably in color this summer. The epidemic of bark beetles that began in 1996 continues to wax, causing whole hillsides to turn rusty in color as the work of beetles from the year before has yielded dead and dying trees.

Casting off their traditional distaste for below-cost timber sales, the ski towns and other local governments have been appealing this year with increasing anxiety to the federal government to revise rules. They not only want timber sales, but they want the wood cut at very, very low costs. In fact, they want the federal government to bankroll the cutting with a specific appropriation, the better to reduce the threat of catastrophic fire.

They got that budget allocation last week. Congress approved $1 million, although local officials say that is far less than is necessary. By at least one local estimation, that much money is needed every year for the next 40 years.

Federal and state officials have also released a plan that aims to cut across the private-public, local-federal jurisdictions. The new plan would allow the federal government to identify those lands that should be in partnership zones. In those zones, the agencies could offer contracts – without a bidding process – to businesses that want to set up long-term operations.


Andre Agassi buys into Idaho resort

DONNELLY, Idaho – Tamarack, the new resort between Boise and McCall, in Idaho, will be taking on a decidedly tennis flair. There, tennis greats Andre Agassi and Stefanie Graf have become joint-venture partners in a project to be called the Fairmont Tamarack.

Fairmont Hotels & Resorts will manage the homes and a hotel, which is to be the top-caliber offering at the resort.

Agassi, the son of an Iranian immigrant, retired last week after years at the top of tennis. Graf, his wife, is a German who was a long-time leader in the women’s division. Both will be active in developing what is called a “lifestyle offering,” but they will also be financial partners, along with Bayview Financial LP.

Other key members are the design team of Wilson & Associates, which has six offices on three continents; and a Vail-based architectural firm, VAg Inc., which specializes in residential resort architecture and prides itself on environmental awareness.

Aspen starts walking the talk

ASPEN – It’s one thing to say you’re against global warming, but quite another matter to take the concrete steps to reduce your own greenhouse gas emissions.

That’s the challenge now in Aspen, which last year engaged in a well-publicized effort called the Canary Initiative. While part of the strategy is to use Aspen’s prominence to publicize the need for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, Aspen also said it would inventory its own emissions and then devise strategies for reducing the emissions.

That inventory found that transportation is responsible for a majority of Aspen’s greenhouse gas emissions, and jet travel alone is responsible for 40 percent. This is partly why Aspen has double the per capita emissions of the United States, which is among the world’s leaders.

Can Aspen continue as one of the world’s leading destination resorts with so many people flying to and fro?The Aspen Times reports no answers to that question at a recent meeting called to address the global warming issue, although most people agreed that some amount of sacrifice will be necessary.


Commuting takes over Jackson Hole

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. — You may have noticed that the world of late has been full of “tipping points.” This old figure of speech is being heard in everyday conversation, including those in resort areas.

One tipping point in resort areas seems to be when 40 percent of the workforce commutes. So says Christine Walker, executive director of the Teton County Housing Authority. And if that is correct, Jackson Hole is rapidly losing its character.

A study found that only 7 percent of workers commuted from outside Jackson Hole in 1990. That grew to 20 percent by the century’s turn, reports theJackson Hole News & Guide, and now it’s up to 33 percent.

In the case of Jackson Hole, most workers come from across Teton Pass from Alta, Driggs and Victor. This is an hour from Jackson Hole, and prices there are lower, the lots (given the same price) bigger and mountain backdrop just as magnificent.


West Nile Virus lands in the Sierra

MAMMOTH, Calif.—News of West Nile Virus has been conspicuously absent in newspapers of Colorado for the last two summers, but it is beginning to pop up farther west.

Mammoth Lake’sThe Sheet reports that somebody from a rural region north of the town was receiving treatment. This was the first victim, although the virus had been found in mosquitoes, horses and other creatures in Inyo, Mono and Alpine along the eastern flanks of the Sierra Nevada for several years.

The virus is not believed to be particularly prevalent at higher elevations, if at all, although exactly where the dividing line is has not been conclusively determined.

– compiled by Allen Best

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