Vail Resorts trims its energy use

BRECKENRIDGE — Ordered last summer by chief executive Rob Katz to cut energy consumption 10 percent by 2010, employees of Vail Resorts have been rapidly changing out light bulbs at their five ski areas, plus dozens of hotels and other buildings.

Julie Klein, director of environmental affairs for RockResorts and Vail Resorts Hospitality, estimated that more than 25,000 lights have been changed in 60 properties to use lower-consuming compact fluorescents. Included are such places as on-mountain restaurants at the company’s five ski areas, lodges, lift shacks and some – but not all – real estate projects.

But it’s not just light bulbs. At Keystone Lodge and Spa, installation of timers and sensors has yielded a 20 percent savings in electricity. At the Lodge at Vail, a 40-year old boiler was replaced at a cost of $300,000 with a new high-efficiency model. The new model is expected to result in 5 to 7 percent less consumption of natural gas. The savings are projected to pay back the investment within 5 to 7 years.

Some good deeds were done well in advance of the edict, however. Because of work at one building in particular, the Great Divide Lodge in Breckenridge, the company was recently recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency with an Energy Star award.

The award is given to commercial building and industrial plants that rate in the top 25 percent of facilities in the nation in terms of energy efficiency. The hotel is the only one in the Rocky Mountain region to be so recognized.

The lodge uses 49.6 percent less energy than the national average for similar hotels, theSummit Daily Newsnotes.

“Just turning down the heat in the common areas is huge,” said chief engineer Ben Raitano. Energy is typically responsible for 6 percent of a hotel’s operating cost. As such, said the EPA’s Barbara Conklin, reducing energy use by 10 percent is the same as increasing revenues by raising room rates.

The increased emphasis upon energy efficiency and energy conservation is expected to offer handsome paybacks for Vail, which spends $25 million per year for gas and electricity.


Black market bedbase takes shape

TELLURIDE – Reported visitor numbers in Telluride are down – way down. January figures were down 17 percent from the previous year.

But Telluride seems busier than that. Why?

One theory is that more people are arranging lodging through Internet websites. While everybody uses the Internet these days, in these cases people are avoiding paying sales taxes, buying the business license fee required in Telluride, and paying into common marketing and airline subsidy programs.

Scott McQuade, chief executive officer of the Telluride Tourism Board, estimated that there are 400 such below-the-radar housing units in the Telluride area, and they had 80 percent occupancy at Christmas.

In a way, this is good, he said. Telluride has lost much of its bed base over the years. In this way, it is regaining some of its capacity. But there are downsides. People who book in such ways may have a less than seamless trip experience, such as when trying to book their own transportation. Those rough edges may sour the prospect of return visits, McQuade suggested toThe Telluride Watch.

And then there’s the question of fairness. Airline flights to nearby Montrose are subsidized by taxes paid by above-the-radar hoteliers, which the below-the-radar renters don’t pay.

There are enough of these illegal rentals that the town government now has a staff member trolling the Internet in search of illegal rentals. The town gets shorted revenue, and there may be zoning violations.


Hard times predicted for Vail Resorts

BROOMFIELD – Vail Resorts has weathered the recession pretty well so far, but the company’s resort and real estate operations will suffer in months and years ahead, according to research analyst Chris Woronka of Deutsche Bank.

Woronka said he believes skier visits have fallen off at the company’s five resorts, and he expects conditions to worsen. “The typical consumer, especially the Northeast-based destination skier, is going to have to make some difficult decisions,” he told theVail Daily.

“A lot of (customers) have lost jobs. Many have lost money in the stock market and on their houses. As they grapple with that, it’s going to be difficult for many people to make that trip out to Vail. A lot of customers are going to redefine what’s really necessary.”

The newspaper said prices of shares in Vail Resorts dropped almost 6 percent in response to Woronka’s analysis.

He did say that Vail is “pretty well positioned (financially), but I’m not sure if they’ll have any more luck in getting people to their mountain. People are much more price sensitive now.”

Meanwhile, it’s shaping up to be a brutal year for real-estate agents in the Eagle Valley. Citing a tally by the Land Title Guaranty Co., theVail Daily reports that just $40 million in real estate changed hands in January, less than one-third of the figure from the same month in 2008. About one-quarter of the sales volume was in the Vail Village.


Breck mulls square footage cap

BRECKENRIDGE – Breckenridge town officials have proposed to limit home sizes. But it’s not clear how much traction this proposal will get.

Mayor John Warner says he was primarily motivated by his dislike of the ecological footprint of large houses in terms of energy use and so forth. But another argument – and the one that is getting more traction – is that big houses degrade surrounding smaller houses. The example he cites is of a 10,000-square-foot house erected among houses of 4,000 square feet.

The regulation now being considered, says theSummit Daily News, would limit home sizes to 80 percent of the largest home in that neighborhood. As such, the limits would depend entirely upon contexts.

But some people want no limits. Others want limits based on additional criteria, such as setbacks from lot lines. The idea does have supporters, though. “The last thing we need in Breckenridge is a lot more ‘McMansions’ that are only occupied three or four weeks per year,” said one resident, Rick Hague, at a recent meeting.

Jeffrey Bergeron, a council member, said he wouldn’t argue strenuously for the regulations, but hopes to see them. “I’m not gonna fall on my sword against this thing,” he said. “But I bet you 20 years from now, if we don’t do anything, I think we’ll wish we had.”

 Snowmobiles cited for Caribou loss

 REVELSTOKE, B.C. – Snowmobilers and wildlife advocates are squaring off in British Columbia over the issue of the endangered mountain caribou.

Some wildlife advocates are accusing snowmobilers of further imperiling the threatened species. Revelstoke-based snowmobilers say they have actually done quite a lot in voluntarily staying out of caribou areas and self-patrolling other snowmobilers.

TheRevelstoke Times Review notes that Bruce McLellan, a senior ecologist with the provincial government, has said intense snowmobiling displaced caribou from some areas.

Aspen’s economic indicators fall

ASPEN – Numbers reflecting the economy continue to be mostly negative in Aspen. Retail sales were down 20 percent in January, with spending related to tourism even worse but spending by locals a little better.

At the local airport, passenger enplanements were down 6 percent for the winter through February, despite an increase in capacity of 14 percent. Meanwhile, the ski area reports an 8.1 percent drop through February in terms of skier days.

Sun Valley and Ketchum talk merger

KETCHUM, Idaho – Should the towns of Ketchum and Sun Valley merge? TheIdaho Mountain Express reports there are new talks, although the idea has been batted about for at least 20 years. The major argument in favor is that there would likely be cost savings. After all, the two towns are adjacent. If this should happen, then Sun Valley would be swallowed by Ketchum because, according to Idaho law, the larger of two municipalities retains the name. That would still leave the Sun Valley ski area, however, which has operations in both towns.

– Allen Best