Hard times in store for ski industry

WHISTLER, B.C. – The ski industry can expect several very hard years, said Bill Jensen, chief executive officer for Intrawest. “I think it’s going to be a long time before we start to recover,” he said at a meeting of Canadian ski area operators.

And as for real estate? “It’s not just stalled; it’s disappeared,” said Jensen, who predicted that recovery will take at least five to 10 years.

A veteran of 35 years in the ski industry, Jensen was in California before arriving in Colorado during the late 1990s. He managed the Breckenridge ski area, then moved over to Vail, and when he left last year to join rival Intrawest, he was managing ski operations at all four of the Colorado resorts owned by Vail Resorts.

In his talk in Whistler, reportedPique Newsmagazine, Jensen pointed to the sharp falloff in skiers between early season and late season last winter. He suggested that falloff will continue into the coming ski season. “What we offer isn’t something people are required to have. It’s optional.”

Revenues were down 10 to 15 percent last season – and the declines could be even greater in the next couple of years, he said.

He also urged ski area operators to examine what they do best. “Understand what is core to your business and what is not core to your business,” he said. But he warned against scrimping on safety.

Whistler will benefit from hosting the Olympics next February, because of the improved infrastructure and more focused community spirit. But he doubts that hosting the Olympics will cause Whistler’s skier days to jump, either this next winter or in coming years.

Also speaking to the Canadian ski area operators was Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association. Six years ago, Berry was optimistic about growth in skier numbers. To a small extent, his optimism has been justified. U.S. skier days surpassed 60 million several years ago.

But this past season, skier days were back to 57 million. And the larger story is that the growth in skier volume has lagged significantly behind the general growth in population. The sport has lost some of its luster from when baby boomers were coming of age.

Baby boomers continue to make up 30 percent of the existing customer base, but most can be expected to drop out of the sport during the next decade, noted Berry. That makes the task of recruiting new skiers all that more important.

The ski industry hasn’t done well at recruiting skiers, despite a major industry push in the last decade. Getting people to the slopes is one challenge, but getting them to come back for seconds and thirds – and long enough to have been bitten by the bug of downhill sliding – is quite another matter. The beginner conversion rate during the last decade has increased only modestly, from 15 to 16.7 percent.

Ski area operators must create a culture of valuing beginners, Berry added

Looking out to the year 2020, Berry sees the U.S. ski industry expanding to 79 million skiers or deflating to 40 million, but with a modestly optimistic scenario would see 62 to 66 million skiers.


Microhydro plant planned for Marble

MARBLE – After 25 years of gestation, a small run-of-the-creek hydroelectric plant could be as little as a year away from fruition at Marble. The small endeavor, called microhydro, could supply enough electricity to meet the needs of 150 homes.

The Crested Butte News reported that Larry and Dana Darien started thinking about the hydroelectric plant in 1984, when federal incentives still existed for such projects. Getting the project to work this time required financial incentives, a land exchange with the U.S. Forest Service and about $500,000.

The purchaser of the electricity will be Holy Cross Energy. It, like other electrical coops in Colorado, is required to get 15 percent of its electricity form renewable sources by 2020.


Elizabeth Edwards stops off in Vail

AVON – Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of former presidential candidate John Edwards, was scheduled to speak to the Vail Breast Cancer Awareness Group. A crowd of nearly 500 people were expected at the event, reported the Vail Daily.

Edwards, who has terminal cancer, recently wrote a book,Resilience, which was about her cancer and looming mortality but also to the revelation that her husband had an adulterous affair outside of their marriage in the midst of his campaign.

She has been criticized for being so public about her family’s troubles. But she told theVail Daily that the couple’s youngest children, 9 and 11, aren’t blind and deaf. “My hope is that I will have successfully written a letter they can have long after I’ve died about what this family means to me,” she said.


Small a relative thing among towns

EAGLE – Located 1,500 feet lower than Vail, the town of Eagle has a month or two more summer every year. If winters are shorter and the real estate less expensive, mountains remain close at hand.

TheRocky Mountain News in 2003 described it as a “tiny town,” and that’s a relative truth. Until the mid-1990s, the town’s only grocery store closed at 6 p.m.

But it’s getting bigger. Last year it gained nearly 7 percent in population, the second fastest growth spurt among Colorado municipalities. Total population, including an adjacent subdivision served by the town, is 7,000 people. It now has three coffee shops, a few shops and a bevy of new restaurants including one that serves only organic food.

For most people, it’s smaller than where they came from, and that’s just fine with them.

For long-time residents, though, the movement has been in the other direction. Asked how the town had changed, one local of several decades’ residency said: “It used to be that I knew most people and I didn’t know a few people. Now it’s the opposite.”


Charles Barkley well-loved in Tahoe

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – After the Angora fire destroyed several hundred homes near South lake Tahoe in 2006, former professional basketball player and cultural icon Charles Barkley donated $100,000 to victims and hosted a dinner for all the firefighters.

In response, South Lake Tahoe proclaimed Charles Barkley Day. The proclamation noted that Barkley, although not the best golfer, still had won the “hearts of many on Lake Tahoe’s Southshore.”

This year, reports theTahoe Daily Tribune, Barkley has donated another $90,000. He was scheduled to be at Lake Tahoe for a golf tournament.


Composer Phillip Glass visits Telluride

TELLURIDE – Phillip Glass, the composer known for the repetitive nature of his music, one theme slowly transitioning into another, was in Telluride recently as the composer-in-residence for the seventh annual Musicfest. He’s been to Telluride several times before, including to attend the film festival held on Labor Day Weekend.

Glass has written pieces for movies, although he considers his work operatic. Too busy to take a long hike while in Telluride, Glass was busy making corrections on his upcoming opera, “Kepler,” and has also been working on an opera based on the life and death of Walt Disney.

But what he enjoys most, Glass toldThe Telluride Watch, is playing the piano. “I’ve always considered music an underground stream that runs through a person,” he said. “Sometimes you’re surprised by what comes out.”


Construction off 80% in Steamboat

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – Construction was down 80 percent in the Steamboat Springs area for the first half of 2008 as measured by dollar volume of permitted projects. But Carl Dunham, an official in the Routt County Regional Building Department, told theSteamboat Pilot & Today that last year was the busiest year ever. “So you’re taking the worst year in a long time and comparing it to a record.”


Steamboat to add two hybrid buses

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – Steamboat Springs plans to add two hybrid diesel-electric buses to augment its one existing hybrid early next year. That existing hybrid is on track to save the city up to $5,700 in fuel costs annually.

Still, the cost savings are overshadowed by the higher cost of the hybrid buses. The two buses cost $600,000 each, most paid for by grants from the U.S. government, reports theSteamboat Pilot & Today. The cost of a conventional bus was not given.

Some bloggers on the newspaper’s website believe the hybrids are less than a swell deal. One blogger wondered why, given the presence of all the natural gas fields nearby, doesn’t the city get buses that burn natural gas.

– Allen Best


In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

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January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows