Skiing at the high-end
Ski areas trend toward luxury but mom and pop stay strong

SideStory: A glance at the ski area improvement game

Casey Modrell and Chasen Marostica soak up the afternoon sun at the base of Durango Mountain Resort earlier this week while a construction crane looms overhead. The crane is working on the new Purgatory Lodge, which will include eight, upscale penthouse timeshares units. The luxury units are part of a trend across Colorado toward higher-end amenities and accommodations./Photo by Jared Boyd

by Will Sands

Sorry, ski bums. Luxury is the new name of the game for many Colorado resorts. Ski areas throughout Colorado are putting a fine polish on their base areas and developing higher-end lodging and housing. Following the trend, Durango Mountain Resort is also adding a little bit of luxury to its offerings this year. However, the local ski area is also keeping its roots firmly seated in the family skiing market.

Billions of dollars will go into upgrades at Colorado ski resorts in coming years. Not only is dated equipment being replaced with the latest and greatest, but lodging is getting a make-over and estate housing is being built along the sides of many slopes.

“There are numerous resorts that are trending toward higher-end properties,” noted Molly Cuffe, director of communications for Colorado Ski Country USA. “A lot of people seem to be looking for a more refined experience.”

For example, Vail has kicked off a “Billion Dollar Renewal,” which includes renovating tired lodges, updating streets and facilities, and building a new luxury hotel. Next door, a joint venture called “Related Westpac” is planning to revamp the base area at Snowmass. Like Vail’s renewal, luxury hotels, high-end shopping and estate homes are in store for Snowmass.

“Colorado was one of the first destinations to create the ski village, and we really perfected that component of the ski experience,” Cuffe said. “Now, ski areas are going back and upgrading those villages and coming up with the times.”

Durango Mountain Resort is also looking to come up with the times. Now knee deep into its 20-year master-plan, construction has been a dominant theme at the local ski area of late. The longterm plan envisions a mix of townhomes, single-family homes, and hotel and shop space. In total, 1,649 units are planned as well as 410,000 square feet of new commercial space. When complete, the ambitious proposal will include six separate villages on 612 acres in the vicinity of the resort.

Currently, the focus at DMR is on the reconstruction of the base-area, a $100 million project coined the Purgatory Lodge. The resort is now building Phase I of the Purgatory Lodge, a $35-million, 130,000 square-foot development that will feature resort amenities and services, commercial space, and lodging units. Among these will be “The Pinnacle,” eight luxury penthouse units, which are being sold as fractional ownership and will include ski passes, golf memberships at the Glacier Club, a private bar and lounge, and private concierge services.

“The Pinnacle will be the penthouse floor of the new Purgatory Lodge we’re building,” explained Loryn Kasten, DMR communications director. “Basically, the Pinnacle steps up the service at Purgatory to a new level.”

In addition to this new offering, one of the master plan’s villages, Engineer Village, will also be decidedly high end. Located directly across U.S. Hwy. 550 from the resort’s overflow parking, the executive homesite community includes 37 large lots. Kasten explained that DMR is still primarily a family-oriented, down-home ski area, but the Pinnacle and Engineer Village are coming online in response to customer demand.

“We run the full spectrum with our guests,” she said. “We have everything from mom-and-pop skiers to people who own multimillion dollar homes and love the Durango area. We want to provide something for every end of that spectrum.”

Kasten then added, “The Purgatory Lodge is a perfect example of that. We’ve got the high-end Pinnacle units on top. The lower units are much less expensive and geared toward more middle-of-the-road homeowners.”

Kasten agreed that the Colorado ski market is growing to include a higher-end clientele and more and more people seeking a refined ski experience. In spite of that fact, DMR is staying true to its long-standing base – family skiers of more modest means.

“We’re not trying to change into a high-end resort,” Kasten said. “We’re trying to accommodate the customers who have those needs. We want to continue to cater to family skiers and local skiers. But we’re also trying to satisfy people who may have higher expectations.”

This dichotomy at Durango Mountain Resort is also representative of what is happening throughout Colorado, according to CSCUSA. Cuffe noted that while there is a discernible trend toward a more luxurious ski experience, there is also a boom at the mom and pop ski areas. The Colorado Gems are eight resorts like Wolf Creek, Monarch and Ski Cooper, smaller ski areas with lighter infrastructure and lower prices. During the 2005-06, growth of skier days at the Gems outpaced other areas in spite of a general lack of upgrades and a more ski bum-friendly approach to business.

“Yes, there is a trend toward the high-end at Colorado ski areas,” Cuffe concluded. “But at the same time, people are interested in getting off the beaten track and visiting the mom and pops. One of our biggest areas of growth has been with our Gem resorts. Not everyone is out there building multimillion dollar properties.” •



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