Vail benefactor off to prison

AVON – Alberto Vilar is now officially a crook. A federal jury in New York City last week convicted Vilar of bilking clients of Ameritrade Mutual Funds, the firm he co-founded in 1979, of millions of dollars

Although Vilar is likely to appeal, he is a convicted felon, which presents a ticklish dilemma for cultural arts leaders at Beaver Creek, where the exquisite 530-seat Vilar Performing Arts Center bears his name. Will the name remain, reflecting his $7 million donation?

Vilar gave that money in the 1990s, when he was still riding high on his prescient investments in Cisco, Microsoft and other high-tech stocks. His worth was once estimated at $950 million.

In turn, Vilar was lavish in donations, not only at Beaver Creek, where he owned several homes, but at performing venues in London, Salzburg, Washington D.C., St. Petersburg and other cities. Vilar also gave $2 million for renovation of the Ford Amphitheater, located in Vail.

At one point, he was estimated to have given at least $100 million and pledged another $150 million. In particular, he was fond of opera.

But after the tech market tumbled, Vilar’s financial world collapsed. He failed to make good on various pledges, and in turn cultural arts centers in New York City, London and Salzburg removed his name from concert halls, programs and other prominent positions.

He was found guilty of three counts of securities fraud, but acquitted of nine counts. News accounts zeroed in on promises made by Vilar and his partner and co-defendant, Gary Alan Tanaka, to an investor who gave $5 million after being assured of its safety.

“It’s very sad,” said Harry Frampton, chairman of the Vail Valley Foundation, a key sponsoring nonprofit for cultural areas at Vail and Beaver Creek. TheRocky Mountain News wanted to know if this conviction could provoke a change in the name of the arts center.

“I don’t know what we’ll do,” said Frampton, who is also managing partner of East West Partners, a real estate development firm. “I feel sure we’ll talk about it, but we haven’t had discussions yet.”

Tony O’Rourke, executive director of the Beaver Creek Resort Co., said he believes that Vilar fulfilled his agreement, so the name should stay. O’Rourke said he also believes it’s not up to the resort to pass judgment on people.

“They have to meet their makers, and it ain’t going to be us. We all make mistakes and the key is to forgive and forget,” O’Rourke told the newspaper


FBI offers reward for eco-arsonists

VAIL – The Federal Bureau of Investigation is now offering a $50,000 reward for four individuals accused of a string of fires in the West. Two of the individuals, who are both now believed to be in Canada, are accused of participating in the planning of the fire that caused the 1998 demolition of Two Elk, a restaurant atop Vail Mountain.

Denver’sRocky Mountain News says that FBI agents are calling the suspects terrorists. “Regardless of their political or social message, their actions were criminal and violated federal laws,” said Michael B. Ward, deputy assistant director of the FBI’s counterterrorism division.

The FBI says Josephine Overaker and Rebecca J. Rubin were among seven members of a group called The Family – a part of the Earth Liberation Front – that plotted the arson on Vail Mountain. They were living in Oregon at the time. The fire was to protest the expansion of lifts and ski trails into an area previously identified as important lynx habitat.

Rubin and three others built timers they planned to use as handmade explosive devices to start the fires, prosecutors contend. But most of the group – including Overaker and Rubin – decided the arson couldn’t be done.

William Rodgers committed the arson, while another member, Chelsea Gerlach, waited for him in a truck at the base of Vail Mountain. Rogers committed suicide after his arrest, while Gerlach is serving a prison sentence for her participation in that and other crimes.


Current times similar to late 1980s

WINTER PARK – No doubt about it, times are tough. But they’ve been tough before, and not that long ago. In most destination ski resorts, the real estate market skidded hard in the early 1980s and never fully recovered for the better part of the decade.

Harder hit than most during that decade was Grand County,

where foreclosures at and near Winter Park, Fraser and Granby were common. One ski area, SilverCreek, closed altogether. Twenty-one percent of those ages 21 - 34 left.

All who were there, and some who escaped early, remember the late 1980s as a dark, dark time. It took much of the 1990s to sort through the bankruptcies.

If local conditions this time are no worse, and perhaps better than those of the 1980s, there’s still a sense of broader economic collapse, some of those survivors tell theSky-Hi Daily News. “Problems now seem to be more systemic, wider,” carpenter Jay Clough tells the newspapers. In particular, he sees it as a difficult time for young families.


Empty storefronts concern Ketchum

KETCHUM, Idaho – Downtown Ketchum has too many empty storefronts, 30 altogether, according to a sidewalk tour by theIdaho Mountain Express.

The story is partly the national economy, but the broader causes are more complex and not necessary of recent origin. Despite being the nation’s first destination ski resort, Sun Valley has actually lost tourism business through the decades. Other resorts, with better air connections and newer lodging, have gained as Sun Valley has lost.

But Ketchum has also lost residents. There are more part-timers, but the full-timers tend to live down-valley, in Hailey, Bellevue or even Twin Falls.


Aspen Skiing expects skier decline

ASPEN – The Aspen Skiing Co. is expecting business volume to drop 5 to 15 percent at its four ski areas this winter, but it is hiring just as many people – 3,500 at peak season – as usual.

David Perry, the company’s senior vice president, mountain division, said the circumstances are unprecedented. “It’s really difficult to look historically at the business ups and downs and say, ‘Oh, it’s just like ‘91 or it’s just like after September 11.’ It’s not. This is different. It’s global, it’s deep, and there’s still big turmoil.”

But with employees easier to find, and housing for them also easier to come by, the company believes it should put its best service foot forward. “We have our opportunity to shine,” said Perry.


Mammoth full of creepers & droolers

MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. – The ratio of men to women is imbalanced in most ski towns, but some are worse than others. Mammoth claims to be the worst. It is, saysThe Sheet, a place where a Roseanne Barr could scoff at a Brad Pitt.

The newspaper polled a variety of the local younger folks, who offered the usual complaints about one another. Women, say the men, are arrogant. The women say that given their choices, they have good reason to be that way.

“Most of the guys here think they are slick and smooth, but in reality they are just creepers,” said Melissa Wigs, 19, using a modern term for an age-old lament.

Matt Gushka, who is 25, says if you’re lucky enough to find a girl you dig, you’d better stick with her. “But you know there’s four other dudes droolin’ on your girl,” he adds.


Whistler scrambles for Olympics beds

WHISTLER, B.C. – With the deadline fast approaching, Whistler is scrambling a bit to find enough bedrooms to host all the workers, reporters and others expected to swarm there for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

So far, 3,000 bedrooms in Whistler have been secured, compared to the 4,000 that the Vancouver Organizing Committee says will be needed for essential workers, volunteers and media.

To help bridge the gap, Whistler is planning to allow homeowners to rent rooms, normally a violation of zoning ordinances banning short-term rentals, so long as the rentals do not displace local workers, reportsPique newsmagazine.


Swank hotel to open in Telluride

MOUNTAIN VILLAGE – If sometimes described as the poor man’s Aspen, Telluride is certainly no slouch when it comes to high-end real estate. Now entering that constellation is a new hotel, called the Capella Telluride. “There aren’t enough stars in heaven” to describe the hotel, says Seth Cagin, publisher ofThe Telluride Watch. It is scheduled to open in February in Mountain Village, the slope-side town near Telluride. The Capella will be operated by Capella Hotels & Resorts, a chain created by Horst Schulze. Schulze achieved considerable success with his role in the 1983 founding and subsequent expansion of another high-endhotel brand, the Ritz-Carlton chain.

– Allen Best