Crested Butte pushes for expansion

CRESTED BUTTE – The conversation continues in Crested Butte about ski terrain expansion. The ski area operator wants to expand onto an adjoining mountain called Snodgrass, arguing that it needs more intermediate-level terrain to sustain the interests of destination skiers.

The ski area recently made its case before 250 people, reports theCrested Butte News. Most of the information was recycled from the past six years, illustrating just how long some of these dialogues can last. The expansion has been proposed off-and-on since the early 1980s.

Ken Stone, formerly of Telluride and now the vice president and chief marketing officer for Crested Butte Mountain Resort, said visitors to Crested Butte stay more briefly, spend less money and return less often.

“We’ve been the discount leaders in the destination resort service,” he said. “We’re not getting the visitors we as a community need to survive.”

While about 80 percent of visitors to Vail and Aspen-area resorts return, at Crested Butte, it’s 54 percent, resort officials said. That makes marketing more expensive and the profit margin thinner.

The key to getting better-heeled visitors who return, they said, is more intermediate terrain.

Mountain planner Roark Kiklevich challenged audience members to spend four days skiing next winter – but within the bookends experienced by destination intermediate skiers. “You can’t ski in the extremes, and you can’t ski the trees,” he said.

Opponents question whether the geology of the mountain will accommodate ski lifts. John Norton, who is a special consultant for Crested Butte, said a highly credentialed geologist had been hired to independently evaluate the risk. “If he had serious heartburn about this project as a scientist, we wouldn’t be here today,” Norton said.

The goal of the expansion, and an associated real estate project, is to get Crested Butte’s skiers days to 550,000 to 600,000 per season. It was hitting that stride a decade ago, but the numbers were padded by weeks of free skiing, a promotion now mostly ended. Now, it’s at 300,000 to 400,000.


Coal power challenger wins election

TELLURIDE – A challenger to Tri-State’s coal-first electricity plans has been elected from the Telluride district of the San Miguel Power Association. However, in somewhat similar battles along the I-70 corridor, the incumbents were re-elected as directors of Holy Cross Energy, another rural electrical cooperative.

Michael Saftler, the challenger in Telluride, defeated the incumbent by more than a two-to-one margin. Saftler toldThe Telluride Watch that he rejects the policy of most other existing board members from the Ouray, Silverton and Norwood areas, which he calls “burning coal until we die.”

Tri-State, a wholesale generator serving 44 rural co-op members in Colorado and adjacent states, has been pushing to build a new coal-fired power plant in Kansas. Critics say Tri-State should instead respond to rising demand by pushing for technological efficiencies and conservation and also encouraging renewable sources, especially wind and solar.

Saftler said he would like to get people engaged in a discussion of how to bring down peak demand.

But base-line demand – such as created by your refrigerator on a 24-hour basis – is what Tri-State is aiming to meet. The new president, Ken Anderson, said Tri-State is committed to coal because it is reliable and because of its lower existing cost. Natural gas, which is used to supplement wind and other renewable sources, is far more expensive and getting more expensive yet.

Holy Cross Energy, which is based in Glenwood Springs, is not a member of Tri-State, but it still overwhelmingly depends upon burning of coal and also natural gas, which has half the carbon dioxide emissions of coal. Two challengers to existing board members had been endorsed by the Aspen Skiing Co., but both were defeated by roughly two-to-one margins.

A similar challenge is being mounted to incumbents in the Gunnison Country Electric Association.


Vail cashes in on record profits

BROOMFIELD – Investors like what Vail Resorts has been doing of late, but some of its policies are drawing brickbrats.

The company recently reported record profits, $114 million, during the first nine months of the fiscal year. It operates five ski

areas in Colorado and California, plus a hotel in Jackson Hole.

Shareholders earned substantial revenue from the closings of a major real estate project in Vail called Arrabelle. Also selling well is a new slope-side “club” where members can store their skis and lounge in comfort with other extremely well-heeled members.

On the other hand, sales at another base-area project in Vail called the Ritz-Carlton Vail are torpid, with just one condo selling since last summer. Two-thirds of the project remains unsold, notes theVail Daily.

While skier-days were down at flagship operation, Vail Mountain, by 2 percent last winter, dipping below 1.6 million, the number of international skiers grew 26 percent, a little bit better than the 23 percent gain in international skiers reported collectively by Colorado Ski Country USA members. The company recouped $49.48 per skier last season.

There have been brickbats as well. Critics have dismissed the company’s alternative-energy initiatives as mostly driven by marketing. Randy Udall, former director of Aspen’s Community Office of Resource Efficiency, said the windmills Vail wants to install on Vail Mountain would have trouble keeping a backcountry ski hut lit.

Vail Resorts also got headlines this spring because of its decision to drop out of Colorado Ski Country USA. Vail, which has 30 to 40 percent of Colorado’s ski market, had argued the organization needed to downsize, to limit its marketing. As the largest contributor, Vail believed other ski areas have been riding on its coattails.


Aspen Mountain reopens in June  

ASPEN – Aspen Mountain reopened last weekend for three sun-spangled and snow-sloshed days. A good time, saysThe Aspen Times, was had by all.

The reopening drew 900 skiers on Friday, 1,700 on Saturday, and almost as many on Sunday. Among those cutting turns on Saturday was a visitor from Philadelphia, Peter Ditzler, who spent about 27 hours traveling to Aspen to partake. Plane conniptions caused him to spend the night in Washington, D.C., but he wasn’t the least bit stressed.

“I was just smiling, knowing I’d be skiing,” he said.

Of course, skiing was already available for anybody willing to do the hiking to earn their turns. The story, said Doug Pearson, of Aspen, was “the scene.”

It was a remarkable year for snow, but not quite so good that Aspen can sustain operations for another weekend.

More remarkable yet was 1995, when spring came on forever, wet in the valleys and snowy on the peaks, and sunshine mostly absent until nearly July. That year Aspen was open June 21, and in Summit County it still looked like February at the top of Arapahoe Basin. One astonished visitor from New England, skiing off the A-Basin summit-ridge cornice on a morning in mid-June that year, was heard saying: “These are mid-winter conditions!”

Motor homes face monster gas prices

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – If you’re puckering up when you fill up with gas, think about what it’s like if you’re in your golden years, motoring around the country in the traveling motel room called an RV.

TheJackson Hole News&Guide recently caught up with the Darbys, of Cabrillo, Calif., who four years ago bought a deluxe motorcoach with marble floors, two stoves, leather recliners and a ceiling fan. They figured to spend up to six months a year as nomads.

They’re still on the road, but cutting it back after stops such as that in Jackson, where they topped off the tank with $344 worth of gas. A full tank would have cost nearly $600.

The newspaper tells the story of many commuters from outlying communities who have switched from pickups to Subarus, or started taking the public buses. The bus service, called START, is over budget 20 percent because of fuel prices.

But it’s not just the rich and richer, but the very richest who are also shrinking their travel. Jackson Hole Aviation reports sales of jet fuel are down 13 percent. While many clients in the past have been unfazed by soaring costs, said Bryan Burns, the company vice president, he’s starting to see people reduce private and charter air travel.

Yet to be seen is the effect of higher gasoline prices on Jackson Hole’s summer economy. Summer there is typically much bigger and busier than winter, owing in part to the draw of the two national parks, Teton and Yellowstone, nearby.

– Allen Best


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January 25, 2024
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January 26, 2024
Paper chase

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January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows