Private clubs take over ski resorts

WHISTLER, B.C. – Will Whistler follow where Vail, Aspen and Park City have already gone in terms of private clubs?

Vail and Beaver Creek are at the epicenter of this privatizing of the resort experience. Its first club, Game Creek – like all the others, built on private land located within the ski area – was and is wildly successful. Instead of eating at public restaurants, members could dine with others of the club.

Soon, the same concept was applied at the base of Vail Mountain, again on private land, but this time with the major advantage of having a slope-side parking space.

The concept spread to nearby Beaver Creek. There, members of the Arrowhead Alpine Club, located on private land at the base of the ski mountain, can store their skis, have breakfast and host guests in leather-chaired comfort.

Aspen now has a private club on its marquee ski hill – again, on private land. So does Deer Valley.

Now Intrawest seems intent on doing the same at Whistler and Blackcomb. Michel Beaudry, writing inPique, says the company has sent out e-mail solicitations inviting participation in a survey “regarding a private members’ club that could provide privileged access to (on-mountain) amenities.”

Whistler, he says, has enough people of wealth to support three or four private clubs. The issue, as he sees it, is whether public lands should be privatized in this way.

Intrawest operates its ski areas on what is called crown land, similar to the national forest lands on which most ski areas operate in the United States, but which in Canada are managed by the provincial governments.

Beaudry objects to the privatization of public lands. “Whistler’s story – Canada’s story – is about access to all,” he writes.

This is part of a long story at ski areas. In a sense, most ski areas already make a joke of the idea that they are offering recreation on public lands for the general public. Buying a ski lesson allows you to cut in lift lines. Many clients purchase lessons for simply that reason.

A couple of years ago, Intrawest got the U.S. Forest Service to allow special first-tracks before the ski hill opened on powder days to those willing and able to pay more.

Aspen ponders impacts of gas prices

ASPEN – Jim Crown, the managing partner for the Chicago-based family that owns the Aspen Skiing Co., says he’s worried about how the price of fuel is affecting airlines.

“Airlines are an extremely important form of mass transit, and the lifeblood of any destination resort,” he tellsThe Aspen Times. If the airlines cut service, that “would be bad for us.”

He wants to see the runway at Pitkin County Airfield lengthened, not only to increase safety, but “to gives us the best chance to make the area accessible to the greatest number of these new, fuel-efficient regional jets.”

If the new generation of regional jets cannot be accommodated, he says, residents and visitors might find themselves with limited and expensive air travel choices and end up spending a lot more time in their cars. “That would hurt the valley both financially and environmentally,” he points out.

He says that Aspen is also facing two operational issues with growing severity: employee housing and the shortage of H2B visas for temporary workers.

Crown also told the newspaper that he was surprised that Aspen didn’t post larger ski numbers last year. There was great snow, air service seats were up 11 percent, and the economy started out the ski season in good shop. The skier days at the four resorts, 1.47 million, was still substantially below the historical peak in the early 1990s.

War on Terror closes the Dillon Dam

SUMMIT COUNTY – It doesn’t take much for the sparks to fly from Tom Long when the subject of the Denver Water Department comes up. He had cause last week when the agency summarily closed the road across Dillon Dam, a shortcut between Frisco and the communities of Dillon and Silverthorne.

The dam, said representatives of Denver Water, was vulnerable to destruction by terrorists. Other dams operated by the agency in the Colorado Rockies apparently are not, as similar restrictions have not been imposed.

“They way they’ve gone about this pisses me off,” said Long, a county commissioner. He was not alone, says theSummit Daily News.

Just what new information had become available to provoke the closure has not been divulged. No threat is imminent, said

Penfield Tate, a commissioner for the water agency. Apparently, however, the decision was made on short notice.

TheRocky Mountain News defended the closing as appropriate. Of course, the newspaper didn’t seem to have a very strong grasp of the situation. A breach of the dam, it said, could result in flooding of Vail, an impossibility. The water would have to flow uphill about 1,700 feet to get across Vail Pass, the lowest crossing of the Gore Range in that vicinity.

Western State College drops ski team

GUNNISON – There are ski towns, and then there are ski colleges. Western State, located in Gunnison, is one of the few schools with the latter reputation. With Crested Butte only 30 miles away, skiing ranks prominently as a reason why students enroll at the school.

But Western State is now losing its ski team. The program costs $150,000 annually, and the athletic budget has been increasingly strapped. A plan assembled several years ago called for a $3 million endowment, but donations have lagged, reports theGunnison Country Times.

Famed Nordic ski coach Sven Wiik, now 87 and semi-retired in Steamboat Springs, retained faint hope, urging college leaders to send a letter to all alumni to “wake everyone up.” Wiik coached the school’s team from 1949-69.

Also lamenting the program’s end was Derek Taylor, editor ofPowder magazine and an alum of Western State. “Skiing and Western State are synonymous,” he said.

Breck expansion draws opposition

BRECKENRIDGE – Vail Resorts has run into resistance in its bid to expand the Breckenridge ski area. Some 67 acres in the proposed expansion would be below treeline, and 285 acres would be above.

More than 100 comments criticizing the plan have been submitted to the U.S. Forest Service, reports theSummit Daily News. The newspaper did not say how many statements of support had been offered.

There are questions about whether Breckenridge, the town, has the carrying capacity to support the expansion. There is also resistance to the invasion of more sidecountry.

The response of Vail Resorts has been to convene a task force of community members to evaluate the plan. However, there are doubts as to how representative the task force is, says theSummit Daily.

There are also questions about too-cozy relationships among consultants. The Forest Service has retained Sno-Engineering to oversee the environmental review. The company previously designed the expansion while working for Vail Resorts.

Ryan Demmy Bidwell, executive director of Colorado Wild, says that a consultant working for both the applicant and the agency is not unusual, although he believes it poses a conflict of interest. Sno-Engineering, he said, has “sort of has a monopoly on this business.”

Sheep dogs attack mountain biker

RED CLIFF – Call it a battle of the Old West and the New West. A woman competing in a mountain bike race in the vicinity of Camp Hale, the former 10th Mountain Division training base, was recently attacked by two great Pyrenees.

TheVail Daily said no report of injuries to the bicycle rider was available.

The dogs, which weigh from 85 to 125 pounds, were possibly in the area to protect domestic sheep that graze on a national forest allotment. Differing viewpoints were offered on the paper’s website. “Wanna have sheep? Get your own damned property and train pit bulls to guard the flock,” said one blogger. “Times have changed … and so should the grazing laws.”

But another blogger, who identified him or herself as a former rock-climbing guide who used the Camp Hale area, had a different view. “These dogs are not unfriendly and only are there to protect the livestock.”

Mine shaft swallows Park City pond

PARK CITY – A pond in the Park City area recently vanished, its water apparently disappearing into an abandoned mine shaft. “It’s like pulling the plug out of the bath tub,” Louis Amoldt, a state geologist, toldThe Park Record. A sinkhole-like depression was noted. Mining in that particular area occurred in the first half of the 20th century, before Park City became a ski town and resort area.

– Allen Best