Crested Butte growth nears approval

CRESTED BUTTE – The arguments haven’t changed in Crested Butte during the last six years regarding the proposed ski expansion onto Snodgrass Mountain, which is across from the existing ski area. But the circumstances have. In January, the Forest Service agreed to accept the proposal for the expansion.

That acceptance doesn’t make Snodgrass a reality, but it dramatically improves its odds of happening.

The plan calls for a gondola to connect the existing ski area, crossing over the town of Mt. Crested Butte, and reaching 275 total acres of new terrain. About half of the new terrain would be of intermediate difficulty. Ski area officials for years have said that the existing ski area’s expert-heavy runs dampen interest from the vast majority of destination skiers, who usually find Crested Butte so intimidating that they don’t return for a second visit.

The resort hopes to have 600,000 skier days annually within a few years. That compares with 415,000 last year – but about two thirds were pass holders or people who skied for free during a promotion called Test Ride.

The Crested Butte News reports that 300 people turned out for a meeting on the plan. Many remain unconvinced that the ski area needs to expand.

“People say at one time we had 290,000 paid skier visits, and why can’t we do that again without expanding,” said Ken Stone, the president of the resort company. But, Stone said, the resort breaks even at 360,000 skiers – but that does not include summer expenses.

Also part of the plan for economic sustainability is major expansion of the base-area real estate, more than 2,000 housing units, to be built over a period of decades.

The Forest Service accepted the proposal after Crested Butte agreed to modify its layout of lifts to avoid areas identified last year as geologically unstable.

Mammoth sees more illegal bookings

MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. – The Town Council in Mammoth Lakes has decided to begin “sting” operations on illegal condo and home rentals. Telluride is also struggling with the same issue.

In Mammoth Lakes, several members of the lodging community spoke at a recent meeting about the proliferation of owner-guest rentals, which they say has tripled. In the past, at least in theory, the owners actually knew the guests, and because they were friends, wouldn’t charge – except, notesTheSheet, perhaps a case a case of beer. As such, this was legal.

But the Internet, far more than newspapers of the past, is allowing this concept to proliferate. And no longer do the home- or condo-owners know the visitors. In the process, taxes are not being paid on the transaction. Those taxes are the most important funding mechanism for town government in Mammoth Lakes.

The Sheet reports estimates that such owner-guest nights used to comprise 10 to 15 percent of all booked room nights, but now may be 50 percent or higher.

Judy Farnett, of a reservations agency, pointed to a trend. “All this is happening with the ease of online booking engines,” she said. Private homeowners can undercut legitimate rentals by up to 50 percent, she said.

Tahoe developer fined for waste

TRUCKEE, Calif. – Northstar Mountain Properties will pay $500,000 in fines and has agreed to finance $2.25 million in environmental improvements in and around the Northstar-at-Tahoe resort, located between Truckee and Lake Tahoe.

The settlement was reported to be the largest of its kind in California. The violations occurred in 2006 when storm-water runoff from the construction site at Northstar sullied Martis Creek, a tributary to the Truckee River.

Blake Riva, manager of East West Partners Tahoe, the principal owner of Northstar Mountain Properties, said the violations occurred when the company tried to “undertake too much construction too fast.”

“We would prefer not to be in a position of paying any fines, but we believe it’s a positive that the funds are being used for local environmental programs,” Riva said.

Local newspapers reported the money will be used for restoration at an open space area called Waddle Ranch, as well as wildfire reduction work at Northstar itself.

In a separate announcement, East West Partners announced it has signed on to advise the Sun Valley Co. about real estate development of two projects in the adjoining towns of Ketchum and Sun Valley.


Genteel club embroiled in lawsuits

BIG SKY, Mont. – The battle to control the high-end Yellowstone Club is turning nasty, reports the Wall Street Journal. The newspaper says a variety of billionaires and investors are likely to place bids to acquire the 13,500-acre private ski and golf club located between Bozeman, Mont., and Yellowstone National Club.

The latest news is that a group of founding members who hold equity in the club have filed a lawsuit against the founders, Tim and Edra Blixseth, accusing them of breaching their fiduciary duty in using a $375 million loan. The money  was said to be used to “enrich” the Blixseths, who took most of the proceeds, and Credit Suisse, which earned a seven-figure fee, plus interest, the lawsuit alleges.

Yellowstone filed for bankruptcy protection in November. “Once a refuge of privacy and exclusivity for the ultrawealthy, Yellowstone now is a battle zone of disputes,” the paper says. Partly precipitating the sale was the divorce of the Blixseths.

Carpenters’ union protests in Breck

BRECKENRIDGE – Unions have become so rare at construction sites in ski towns that they seem almost as outdated as miners. But organizers are trying to change that.The Summit Daily News reports that a union of carpenters has unfurled a banner at a construction site at the base area in Breckenridge.

“Shame on Vail Resorts, Inc.,” says the sign, although the dispute most specifically is with a construction company, Spacecon Specialty Contractors.

A spokesman for the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America said the company is paying wages of $16.50 to $18 per hour for hanging drywall and placing metal studs. The company believes the standard wage – and the one the workers should be paid – is $26.15 per hour, including family health care.

A similar dispute between the union and a contractor in Aspen is also reported.

Squaw Valley slashes ski pass prices

TRUCKEE, Calif. – Squaw Valley has announced major reductions in the prices of its season passes. The reason, according to the resort, is to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the ski area’s founding and the 50th anniversary of it hosting the Winter Olympics.

A more skeptical view suggests that Squaw is competing with Heavenly, the resort a few miles away, which is part of the Vail Resorts chain. Vail hit a home run this season with its Epic Pass, only $579.

Squaw’s passes aren’t that affordable, but they’re aggressively discounted up to $1,000. The lowest priced pass will be $379, but does not allow skiing on Saturdays from Christmas until March or during holiday periods. A tiered level of access and perks is offered in three other increments of passes ranging in price to $1,500.


Butch Cassidy robbery to be feted

TELLURIDE – Do you suppose that Robert Redford would be willing to duck out of his hideaway in Utah and put in a show at Telluride this summer? In mid-June, 120 years nearly to the day, Telluride will have a re-enactment of the robbing of a local bank by Butch Cassidy and his gang. At least in the movie version, Redford was the Sundance Kid, a name reflected in his Utah resort.

The Telluride Watch explains that the re-enactment is part of a new Heritage Festival. Also a major part of the weekend will be appearances by representatives of the Ute bands that once made their homes in the San Miguel Valley. The festival will wrap up with a performance by R. Carlos Nakai, the Grammy Award-nominated flutist whose heritage is of the Navajo and Ute tribes.

Jewelry lifted from Romney house

PARK CITY, Utah – It wasn’t a big heist by the standards of Park City, only $5,000 to $6,000 worth of jewelry. But the house from which the jewelry disappeared is owned by Mitt Romney, Republican nominee for president last year.The Park Record notes that the 7-bedroom, 10-bathroom mansion is on the market for $5.25 million.

– Allen Best


In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

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